Across Pennsylvania, heroin, pharmaceuticals, and other illicit drug use continues to increase leading to an unknown number of fatal and non-fatal overdoses. Within this mix of illicit drugs, there is one drug that is increasing in popularity more rapidly than others. Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50x more potent that heroin and 100x more potent than morphine. In Pennsylvania, fentanyl-related deaths increased by 92.9% between 2014 and 2015.

Fentanyl is prescribed to patients for chronic pain associated with cancer. Fentanyl can be diverted, or brought into the United States illegally to be sold. It is used as a cutting agent mixed in with heroin and other illegal drugs. Fentanyl is a white powder and when mixed in with drugs like heroin or cocaine, a consumer cannot tell the difference based on the appearance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report about Fentanyl related overdoses, available here. The report lists Pennsylvania as having the third highest number of fentanyl confiscations. According to the data charts on OverdoseFreePA.org, in 2013 there were eight cases where fentanyl was in a person’s system at time of death. In 2015, the number jumped to 126 cases. As the opioid epidemic continues, it is likely that the presence of fentanyl and fentanyl related compounds will rise in Pennsylvania.

The use of fentanyl and fentanyl related compounds is becoming increasingly more popular across the nation because of the potency and relative ease of access.  New fentanyl related compounds,, which work similar to fentanyl but have a different chemical structure, are made readily available through international trade. The federal government can schedule new compounds, which allows for there dispensing and possession to be illegal without following federal regulations. However, because the synthetics are rapidly produced in different formulas, the scheduling process is slow in keeping pace with the development of new fentanyl related compounds.

Naloxone is available through the Pennsylvania standing order and can reverse an opioid overdose, including a fentanyl overdose. For more information on naloxone, please visit our naloxone information and naloxone finder pages on OverdoseFreePA.org.

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