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Steep increases in fentanyl-related mortality west of the Mississippi River: Recent evidence from county and state surveillance.

Shover CL, Falasinnu TO, Dwyer CL, Santos NB, Cunningham NJ, Freedman RB, Vest NA, Humphreys K. Steep increases in fentanyl-related mortality west of the Mississippi River: Recent evidence from county and state surveillance. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2020 Nov 1; 216:108314.

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Abstract:

BACKGROUND: Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl) increased 10-fold in the United States from 2013 to 2018, despite such opioids being rare in illicit drug markets west of the Mississippi River. Public health professionals have feared a "fentanyl breakthrough" in western U.S. drug markets could further accelerate overdose mortality. We evaluated the number and nature of western U.S. fentanyl deaths using the most recent data available. METHODS: We systematically searched jurisdictions west of the Mississippi River for publicly available data on fentanyl-related deaths since 2018, the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics. Using mortality data from 2019 and 2020, we identified changes in fentanyl-related mortality rate and proportion of fatal heroin-, stimulant, and prescription pill overdoses involving fentanyl. RESULTS: Seven jurisdictions had publicly available fentanyl death data through December 2019 or later: Arizona; California; Denver County, CO; Harris County, TX; King County, WA; Los Angeles County, CA; and Dallas-Fort Worth, TX (Denton, Johnson, Parker, and Tarrant counties). All reported increased fentanyl deaths over the study period. Their collective contribution to national synthetic narcotics mortality increased 371 % from 2017 to 2019. Available 2020 data shows a 63 % growth in fentanyl-mortality over 2019. Fentanyl-involvement in heroin, stimulant, and prescription pill deaths has substantially grown. DISCUSSION: Fentanyl has spread westward, increasing deaths in the short-term and threatening to dramatically worsen the nation's already severe opioid epidemic in the long-term. Increasing the standard dose of naloxone, expanding Medicaid, improving coverage of addiction treatment, and public health educational campaigns should be prioritized.





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