The office of Connecticut's Chief Medical Examiner released some grim statistics earlier this week. With a record 539 accidental drug deaths in the first six months of 2017, this could be the deadliest year ever for drug overdoses in Connecticut.
Three hundred twenty-two of those deaths have been attributed to overdoses involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Fentanyl isn’t just used as a heroin additive.
Data collected from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reveals that while fentanyl and heroin were present in 354 deaths in the first half of 2017, 192 people overdosed on fentanyl and cocaine, and 74 deaths were attributed to a combination of fentanyl and opioid prescription drugs.
Despite its lethal potency, and reputation for causing overdoses, users are knowingly seeking out and abusing fentanyl.
“It’s like a moth to a flame,” said Dr. J. Craig Allen, Medical Director of Rushford, a substance abuse and addiction treatment provider in Middletown. “As your tolerance builds up, you use a more and more potent forms of the substance to keep trying to get that high again.”
Equally troubling for Allen is that several people who have died this year from fentanyl overdose were unaware they were taking the opioid.
“There was an incident a few weeks ago in Connecticut where a number of people had purchased what they thought was cocaine, and mixed in was a synthetic opioid like fentanyl, and there were a bunch of overdoses,” said Allen. “Also, dealers can illegally get pill presses and make pills that look like Vicodin or Percocet, but actually have other ingredients in them like fentanyl.”
Allen said that for people who do become addicted to fentanyl, recovery is a much longer and tougher road than for someone who is addicted to cocaine and other less powerful drugs.
Data visualizations by Patrick Skahill for WNPR. Source: Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Drug Death Data, First Half of 2017.
WNPR's Opioid Addiction Crisis Reporting Initiative is supported by Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network's MATCH Program.