In a short time period, fentanyl jumped from the 9th most common drug involved in fatal overdoses to the 5th.
Fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, caught the public’s attention following the overdose death of music legend Prince in April 2016.
According to new federal data, fatal fentanyl overdoses are becoming a more common occurrence, with death rates more than doubling in a single year. In 2013, there were about 1,905 fatal overdoses involving fentanyl, and in 2014, that number shot up to about 4,200 fatal overdoses.
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Fentanyl is thought to be anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and it’s commonly prescribed to help patients with advanced stages of cancer manage their excruciating pain. However, as NPR reports, illegal manufacturing of the potent painkiller has skyrocketed in the recent years, contributing to the stark increase in overdoses.
The new report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and highlights a noteworthy trend in the rising opioid epidemic in the United States — nearly half of drug overdoses in the US involved a lethal cocktail of drugs rather than an incident with a single drug.
The researchers also ranked the top 10 most common drugs involved in overdoses, with heroin coming in at number one and cocaine placing second. Fentanyl, previously ranking at number nine, jumped to the 5th most common drug involved in overdoses.
In general, opioids have dominated the fatal overdose charts. By 2010, opioids accounted for slightly more than 50 percent of all drug deaths, but by 2014, that number spiked to 66.4 percent.
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With such a complex problem, there’s no easy fix. A study published back in March (2016) suggested that smoking marijuana might be a solution to the painkiller epidemic, as patients who used marijuana to manage chronic pain reported a whopping 64 percent decrease in their use of traditional painkillers like opioids.
Still, the researchers cautioned against rushing to change current clinical practice towards cannabis. Although the study found an encouraging drop in painkiller use, proper research on cannabis has been extremely limited due to government regulations. We still have a lot to learn.