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By Gary Evans, Medical Writer
The United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic of epic proportions, as it is estimated that the total of overdose deaths last year exceeded 60,000 people.
The preliminary estimates of the 2016 fatalities “were partially driven by a five-fold increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), from 3,105 in 2013 to approximately 20,000 in 2016,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine, is primarily responsible for this rapid increase. In addition, fentanyl analogs such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths and the illicit opioid drug supply.”
In particular, carfentanil is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and healthcare workers have had to be revived with an emergency antidote after coming into contact with drugged patients. The opioid epidemic’s other ramifications for healthcare facilities include the threat of violence by addicts seeking care, and the potential for the flood of street drugs to exacerbate the longstanding problem with drug diversion by healthcare workers.
The toll estimated for 2016 was extrapolated from CDC surveillance data in 10 states. The overdose deaths estimated for 2016 almost double the 33,000 drug deaths the CDC previously estimated for 2015.