Jun 25, 2019 | Updated: 07:39 AM EDT

Fentanyl-Related Deaths Are On the Rise in West Virginia, Up to 122%

Apr 16, 2019 02:16 PM EDT

Fentanyl-Related Deaths Are On the Rise in West Virginia, Up to 122%
(Photo : WVU)

The National Institutes of Health, West Virginia University funded a recent study that has researchers Gordon Smith, Marie Abate, and Zheng Dai and they discovered an increase in fentanyl-related deaths in West Virginia, even as there is a decline in deaths related to prescription for opioids.

The study, which has the research team that included medical examiners from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, analyzed all drug-related deaths in the state from 2005 to 2017 and found out that between 2015 and 2017, deaths from fentanyl were 122 percent of what they were between 2005 and 2014. Prescription of opioids, in comparison, played a role in 75 percent fewer deaths between 2015 and 2017 than over the previous years.

Then, the researcher looked for the reason fentanyl-related deaths skyrocket in 2015. They discovered that one factor was a surge in illegal fentanyl imports from China. An epidemiologist in the School of Public Health, Smith, said that up until then, people who were shifting from legal prescription drugs to illegal drugs were changing to heroin and opioids coming from Mexico and other places. Then, people began to manufacture fentanyl in China, setting up clandestine labs, staying one step ahead of drug-enforcement agencies.

Smith explained further that the big thing about fentanyl which is now carfentanil, a fentanyl analog that is a thousand times stronger than morphine and heroin, is that it is quite easy to export, instead of having to smuggle truckloads of heroin in, people can send small packages through the mail.

He explained that potency is another contributor to fentanyl. Someone might need to take 200 Tylenol before the person gets into some serious trouble, but with some other pain reliever, one might only need four of them because it is so much stronger.

A significant part of the national trend is West Virginia's increase in fentanyl-related death. In the CDC report, deaths from fentanyl overdoses spiked across the United States in 2015 and, as of 2017, continued to climb. However, West Virginia takes the lead in fentanyl-related deaths. Also, it has the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths overall.

Smith further stated that one of the proven ways to cut down on the overdose is to decrease the number of people who are addicted and using it. The case of fentanyl is different because one could have the figure of addicts in West Virginia, and the overdose rate could still go up because the strength of the drug coming in is much more intense and tends to fluctuate extensively from one day to the next. It is nothing but absolute quandary.

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