Fentanyl Overdoses Rise at Rapid Clip

The death-rate of synthetic opiates, such as fentanyl, rose 72.2 percent from 2014 and has continued to rise, according to the Center for Disease Control. It is one of the strongest and most lethal opiate drugs on the market.
“There are more deaths from fentanyl right now in the country than there are from heroin,” said Program Director of Ulster County Prevention Services Cheryl DePaolo. “It’s much more widely available because it is a cheap substance for people who are packaging drugs to mix into other drugs.”
Ulster County Prevention Services works to educate Ulster County youth about drug abuse and has initiated public service campaigns to spread awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. They also work with emergency services and the Department of Health to collect data when batches of drugs are confiscated and tested. Additionally, they conduct a biannual survey of drug use and compare the data to trends over the past 12 years.
In 2016, there were 134 overdoses in Ulster County alone as presented by County Legislator Mary Wawro in a meeting of Ulster County Coalition Against Narcotics in March according to Hudson Valley One. Of the 134 overdoses, 26 of them were fatal; there were seven non-fatal overdoses and one fatal overdose in New Paltz that same year.
Approximately two thirds of overdose cases in Ulster County were males between the ages of 20 and 29. Most of the female cases were prevalent in women ages 30 to 39.
According to DePaolo, people aren’t necessarily looking for fentanyl; it’s the manufacturers and dealers that are cutting other drugs with the homemade, illegally manufactured chemical compound.
“Most people wouldn’t say, ‘I want cocaine with fentanyl,’ it just happens that they buy something cut with fentanyl and that’s why you have overdoses because people don’t know that’s what they’re getting,” she said.
The effects of fentanyl are not long-lasting, so it is typically used for surgery recovery for breakthrough pain: the temporary pain a person already taking an opiate experiences when it breaks through the opiate barrier.
Time-release formulations of fentanyl provide strong relief over time and typically come in a lollipop or a patch. It is also available as a film that dissolves under the tongue or a pill meant to be lodged on the side of a cheek.
According to DePaolo, the strength of opiates is comparable to the potency of morphine. For example, heroin is 10 times stronger than morphine; fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine.
Additionally, carfentanil, a large mammal tranquilizer is starting to show up in overdose cases around the country. According to DePaolo, carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and only requires a dose the size of a grain of salt to cause an overdose.
As with any opiate, the most common signs of fentanyl abuse include euphoria, drowsiness, lethargy and mellowness.
Fentanyl is particularly dangerous for those abusing outside of a hospital because the difference between a therapeutic dose and a deadly dose is very small. Additionally, fentanyl quickly creates tolerance to higher doses.
“One of the really weird things about fentanyl, for someone with a really serious opiate use disorder, they’ll hear about something really strong like that and instead of avoiding it, they think, ‘Well that must be really good,’” DePaolo said. “When somebody dies from a heroin overdose, they want to know what brand it might have been to maybe get some.”