Health officials say deaths from the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and fentanyl-related drugs appear to be on the rise in Washington state.
An investigation by several state agencies released Wednesday found at least 70 people died from the synthetic opioid in 2016.
Fentanyl is a fast-acting, powerful opioid – 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. It is often mixed with heroin or made to look like other painkillers that fetch a higher street price.
An analysis found that most of the overdoses involved fentanyl sources that were illicit or unknown – most often purchased on the street or online, in the form of a powder or pill that mimics a real opioid like benzodiazepine, an anti-anxiety drug, researchers said. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is typically only available at hospitals for surgeries.
State officials say that direct comparisons between 2015 and 2016 aren’t possible because the state’s toxicology lab changed its testing protocol last year.
In 2015, using the older method, the lab identified 28 fentanyl-related deaths. That same protocol would have identified 53 fentanyl-related deaths in 2016.
The newer testing protocol found an additional 17 deaths last year.
What to do
The health department recommends these steps for people who use opioids, and their friends and family:
▪ Learn how to recognize and intervene in an overdose at stopoverdose.org.
▪ If you see an overdose involving opioids, call 911, do mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and use naloxone, if available. The prescription drug may stop and overdose and is available at the these locations and at all Walgreens, Safeway, and Albertson’s pharmacies in Washington.
▪ Contact the Washington Recovery Help Line (866-789-1511) to learn more about opioid-use disorder and treatment options.