Fentanyl Overdoses Have Doubled in Rhode Island: CDC

According to a new report from federal health officials, the number of serious and potentially life-threatening fentanyl overdoses are on the rise in Rhode Island, and problems associated with the powerful painkiler are quickly becoming an issue for many states in the East.

In the latest issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers indicate that twice as many fentanyl drug overdose deaths were reported in Rhode Island between November 2010 and March 2014, when compared to the same period in previous years.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is often illegally produced by street drug manufacturers for people without prescriptions or others hoping to get high.

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In 2013, fentanyl caused a slew of overdose deaths in northern Rhode Island. The majority of the overdoses were among injection drug users.

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths accounted for more than 30 percent of 165 unintentional overdose deaths reported during the reporting period. Most of the deaths involved patients who did not have active prescriptions for fentanyl and received the drugs from illicit sources.

Officials included overdose deaths in the report where fentanyl was listed as the official cause of death and fentanyl levels were reported above the detection limit by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

The majority of the overdose deaths occurred in the city of Providence and surrounding areas, revealing the problem in Rhode Island tends to be a much more urban focused issue.

The CDC worked with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) after the agency requested their assistance in determining the risk factors for fentanyl-related overdose death.

From April 2005 to March 2007, the CDC and Drug Enforcement Administration identified more than 1,000 deaths caused by illicit fentanyl use in other states as well, including New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year a police investigation was launched after heroin laced with fentanyl was linked to more than 60 deaths in three states. At the time, officials indicated that the powerful narcotic may have played a role in the overdose death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Investigators said the drug is so powerful it was stopping user’s hearts. The lethal mixture is known as “China White,” but may also be referred to by other names. Officials warned users to abstain from using mixtures of drugs which included fentanyl.

In recent years, a number of problems have also been associated with prescription fentanyl pain patches, which were originally introduced under the brand name Duragesic patch, but are now widely available as a generic. The patch is designed to deliver fentanyl gel in a slowly regulated manner. However, manufacturing problems with certain pain patches have been linked to reports of overdose and death where the fentanyl gel leaked and came into direct contact with the skin at high doses.


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