State ME: Fentanyl causing most fatal ODs in Connecticut
Illicit fentanyl continues to be a driving force behind overdose deaths in Connecticut, the state’s Chief Medical Examiner James Gill said on Thursday.
“Fentanyl doesn’t seem to be going away,” Gill said. “We really need to focus on that.”
Fatal fentanyl overdoses have increased dramatically this decade, and data released by Gill’s office on Thursday projected that overall accidental drug intoxication deaths for 2018 could approximate 2017’s total of 1,038.
Fentanyl has been the cause of more than half the accidental drug intoxication fatalities since 2016. Overall accidental overdose deaths in Connecticut have risen from 357 in 2012 to 495 in 2013, 568 in 2014, 729 in 2015 and 917 in 2016.
State data show 515 people died from overdoses this year from January through June, and a projection for the year estimates 1,030 people could die by the end of the year.
“It does kind of look like it’s leveling off,” Gill said, stressing these are projections. “The good side is that it’s not increasing. But now we’re trying to focus on trying to get that curve to go down.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is much stronger than morphine or heroin, Gill said, adding since it’s much stronger, less is needed to overdose.
“It’s very easy to take too much,” he said.
In 2012, 14 deaths in the state were linked to fentanyl. That number climbed over the years, jumping from 189 in 2015 to 483 in 2016.
In 2017, 677 deaths were linked to fentanyl. From January through June of this year, 370 deaths were attributed to the drug, the Medical Examiner’s Office said. The data projected 740 fentanyl deaths Connecticut in 2018.
The OCME data show that fentanyl has been laced with heroin, cocaine and other opioids over the years. The drug in its pharmaceutical form is typically a patch used for pain relief for cancer patients, and it absorbs into the body over time, Gill said.
“Fentanyl deaths we were seeing four or five years ago were largely from pharmaceutical fentanyl,” Gill said. “Now it’s illicit — it’s not prescription-type fentanyl. ... Drug dealers aren’t pharmaceutical chemists. They aren’t necessarily making the right dosage or adding the right amount.”
Mike Werdman, an emergency physician at Bridgeport Hospital, said it’s time to educate the public and decrease overdoses.
“There are still obviously lots of issues with substance abuse out in the community,” Werdman said. “Now is an opportunity to work on harm reduction and see how we can reduce what clearly is a public health and medical health issue.”
As the use of Narcan — a brand name of naloxone, an opioid-overdose antidote — increases among first responders and some drug users, Werdman said he hopes overdose survivors will still seek medical treatment.
Many narcotics are active for longer than Narcan, which Werdman said tends to last about an hour. He said once the Narcan wears off, drug users can feel side effects still being caused by the drug.
“If you need to be resuscitated, even if you are resuscitated by a friend or family member, you still need to come in,” Werdman said. “It’s good to be checked out just to be sure everything is OK.”