nj.com: Deaths from fentanyl, 50 times more powerful than heroin, nearly triple in N.J.

Below is an article that ran last week on NJ.com. The information is vitally important to our communities:

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A collection of different brand and dosages of the Fentanyl patch, clearly marked with warnings about non-prescribed uses. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on June 14, 2015 at 8:11 AM, updated June 15, 2015 at 7:49 AM
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Overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl, a prescription opioid up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, tripled in New Jersey in 2014, new data show, adding a destructive new wrinkle to the state's heroin and opioid crisis.

State data show that 143 overdose deaths were attributed to fentanyl in 2014, up from 49 in 2013. It's a growing worry for law enforcement officials who know a single use of the drug, often unknowingly used to lace heroin, can lead to death.

"Fentanyl is just so damn powerful that it is extremely difficult to control. You can't just casually mix it with heroin, or you can, but it's often a death sentence," said Steven Marcus, director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers University. "This just throws another curve ball into things because there's no quality control out there. When you buy a bag you have no idea what's in it."

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is prescribed to people with chronic pain, such as end-stage cancer patients. It is colorless and odorless, making it nearly impossible for the average person to detect. Increasingly, it's appearing on New Jersey streets, cut with or substituted for heroin, leading to the death of dozens of unsuspecting users each year.

Just this week in Camden, state officials warned of several brands of fentanyl-laced heroin making their rounds in South Jersey, which have been blamed for 55 overdoses and at least four deaths in the month of June alone.

"Fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose when taken alone or when combined with heroin," state police said in a statement published Friday afternoon.

Officials said it's a difficult threat to fight, because often users, seeking a better high, can be drawn to reports of more potent opioids.

"What scares us is like it's a double-edged sword," said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. "When (addicts) found out that it was out there they wanted it. The addiction becomes so unbelievable that the addicts' only thought its to get a better high."

When fentanyl does significantly enter an opioid market, the results can be devastating. From 2005 to 2007 during the so-called "China White" outbreak, fentanyl was blamed in scores of deaths in New Jersey and more than 1,000 nationwide.

The drug has been blamed for dozens of deaths each year in New Jersey since 2011, but took an exponential leap in 2014. Heroin-related deaths also ticked upward for the fourth straight year in 2014, killing at least 781 people.

 

In its pharmaceutical form, fentanyl is often administered by injection, intravenous drip or provided to patients as a lollipop or a transdermal patch. In its purest form, it is generally only prescribed to patients in the most extreme of cases or as an anesthetic.

But fentanyl, or an analogue of it known as acetylfentanyl, can be made fairly easily. And because of its potency, can be sold in very small quantities.

"One gram of pure fentanyl can be cut into approximately 7,000 doses for street sale," the Center for Disease Control said in a 2008 report. "Manufacture of (fentanyl) requires minimal technical knowledge, and recipes for making (fentanyl) are available on the Internet."

Its emergence is perplexing to Marcus because heroin purity levels are at an all time high.

"I've been asking myself 'why fentanyl?' We've all been asking that question," he said. "When the purity of heroin is so stupendously high I don't understand what's in it for (drug dealers) to put fentanyl in on it."

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