fentanyl

Fentanyl in the Context of New Psychoactive Substances

"Since 2012, a total of 28 new fentanils have been identified on Europe’s drug market. This includes eight substances that were reported for the first time in 2016 and 10 during 2017. During this period, there has also been a large increase in seizures reported by customs at international borders and police at street-level (Figure 4) (see also ‘Reducing the risk of occupational exposure to fentanils’, page 11). While the picture differs widely across Europe, 23 countries have reported detections of one or more of these substances (Figure 5) (2).

Growth of Fentanyl on the Illegal Market

"Alongside their legitimate uses as medicines and in research, the fentanils also have a long history of illicit use as replacements for heroin and other controlled opioids. Between 1979 and 1988, more than 10 fentanils that had been made in illicit laboratories were detected on the drug market in the United States (Henderson, 1991). The first was alpha-methylfentanyl, followed by substances such as 3-methylfentanyl and 4-fluorofentanyl. Typically, they were sold as heroin or ‘synthetic heroin’.

Deaths in 2016 in the US Attributed to Drug Overdose

"• In 2016, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States.

"• The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) was 21% higher than the rate in 2015 (16.3).

"• Among persons aged 15 and over, adults aged 25–34, 35–44, and 45–54 had the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2016 at around 35 per 100,000.

"• West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1), New Hampshire (39.0), the District of Columbia (38.8), and Pennsylvania (37.9) had the highest observed age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

Growth of Fentanyl Related Deaths in the US

"Preliminary estimates of U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeded 60,000 in 2016 and were partially driven by a fivefold increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), from 3,105 in 2013 to approximately 20,000 in 2016 (1,2). Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine, is primarily responsible for this rapid increase (3,4). In addition, fentanyl analogs such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths (5,6) and the illicit opioid drug supply (7).

What is Fentanyl?

"Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic acting predominately at the μ-opiate receptor. It has historically been used as a pain reliever and an anaesthetic in both human and veterinary medicine and in terms of analgesic activity it is at least 80 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl was first synthesized by Paul Janssen in 1960 and marketed as a medicinal product for treating pain. Subsequently, many fentanyl analogues were developed including sufentanil, alfentanil, remifentanil, and carfentanil.

Factors That May Skew Estimates of Overdose Deaths Attributed to Specific Drugs, Particularly Opioids

"First, factors related to death investigation might affect rate estimates involving specific drugs. At autopsy, the substances tested for, and circumstances under which tests are performed to determine which drugs are present, might vary by jurisdiction and over time. Second, the percentage of deaths with specific drugs identified on the death certificate varies by jurisdiction and over time. Nationally, 19% (in 2014) and 17% (in 2015) of drug overdose death certificates did not include the specific types of drugs involved.

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