In 2014, fentanyl was attributed to 143 deaths in New Jersey, which was almost a 300 percent increase from 49 in 2103, according to the New Jersey Department of Law and Safety. Fentanyl is often laced with heroin, producing a dangerous form of the drug that is killing many opiate addicts across the country. Fentanyl is a potent prescription opioid, which is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and it has been a large culprit in the nationwide wave of heroin-related deaths.
Fentanyl’s legal use is as an anesthetic for patients who are struggling from severe, chronic pain, such as cancer patients or others who are in the final stages of other terminal diseases. The potency of the drug is incredibly high, thus it must be administered in very small doses to prevent overdose by patients. Fentanyl provides drug dealers with a means to make their heroin even more potent, leaving many bodies behind.
The ongoing crackdown on prescription opioids and the implementation of abuse-deterrent formulas of oxycodone have been attributed to the rise in heroin abuse across the country. In 2010, manufacturers made a change in the controlled-release formula of oxycodone, which was intended to prevent crushing, snorting, injecting or smoking the drug. This change had some unintended consequences and contributed to a spike in heroin abuse across the country. A study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and published in JAMA Psychiatry, collected data from 2566 opioid addicted patients from 150 drug addiction treatment centers in the U.S. after the abuse-deterrent formula was implemented. The study’s results showed that oxycodone use within the population decreased from 47.4 percent to 30 percent, however, the rate of heroin use almost doubled.
Researcher Theodore J. Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis noted, “Data show that OxyContin use by inhalation or intravenous administration has dropped significantly since that abuse deterrent formulation came onto the market. So in that sense, the new formulation was very successful.” While the initial intention of the formula change was met, Cicero added, “The most unexpected, and probably detrimental, effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation was that it contributed to a huge surge in the use of heroin, which is like OxyContin in that it also is inhaled or injected.”
This increase in heroin use has lead to an inevitable increase in heroin overdoses, many of which involve fentanyl. New Jersey officials noted that fentanyl is a hard threat to fight because heroin addicts are more drawn to using heroin with a higher potency. Recently in Camden, New Jersey, officials were warned of several types of fentanyl-laced heroin that were hitting the streets, causing 55 overdoses.
In fentanyl’s clinically-used, pharmaceutical form, it is administered via injection, IV drip, lollipop or a transdermal patch. Fentanyl in its purest form is typically only prescribed to patients in the most severe cases of pain as an anesthetic. It doesn’t take much of the drug to add a significant amount of potency to heroin. The Center for Disease Control stated in a 2008 report that “one gram of pure Fentanyl can be cut into approximately 7,000 doses for street sale.”
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office stated, “What scares us is like it’s a double-edged sword…When [addicts] found out that it was out there they wanted it. The addiction becomes so unbelievable that the addicts’ only thought is to get a better high.”
The heroin epidemic has been an ongoing threat in the U.S., leaving thousands of Americans in need of help. Sovereign Health Group is among the leading addiction treatment providers in the country. We offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient treatment programs across the nation for patients who are struggling with addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction and is in need of treatment, please do not hesitate to call or talk to a member of our team online.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer