Delaware officials are warning residents about the fatal threat from cocaine laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is causing overdose deaths to rise across the state.
Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s Forensic Chemistry Unit and Toxicology Unit are increasingly testing “samples with a mixture of cocaine and fentanyl,” department director of communications Wendy Hudson said. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid up to 50 times more powerful than pure heroin, WDEL reported.
A 2016 influx of fentanyl drove an increase in overall overdose deaths, claiming more than 300 lives, the Division of Forensic Science in Delaware said. Officials do not have final data for 2017 but are expecting a similar spike in fentanyl and other drug-related deaths.
“As a physician, I have seen the toll that addiction takes on individuals and their families, and I have personally seen the effects of dangerous combinations with fentanyl, heroin and cocaine,” Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary and Dr. Kara Odom said, according to WDEL. “Even one use of an illicit drug can be lead to overdose and death, but the added presence of fentanyl dramatically increases those risks.”
Delaware health officials are only the latest to sound the alarm on the threat the infiltration of fentanyl poses across drug supplies. The Ohio Department of Health recently asked medical professionals and first responders to start using opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan for any situation where a person has overdosed on drugs in case fentanyl is involved.
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Cocaine overdose toxicology reports involving fentanyl are rapidly increasing, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department officials said at a city council hearing in Florida Monday.
Cocaine is more widely used as a social drug than a substance like heroin, because many users are unaware of the fatal risks even a small amount of the drug now carries, authorities fear.
Fentanyl overtook heroin as the U.S.’s deadliest substance in 2016, claiming 19,413 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cocaine-overdose deaths increased from roughly 4,000 in 2009 to more than 6,700 in 2015, the CDC estimates. Cocaine-overdose deaths are about to explode in 2017 to nearly 11,000, National Institute on Drug Abuse officials predict.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, claiming more than 64,000 lives in 2016.
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