News & Commentary

Third wave of opioid epidemic, featuring fentanyl, strikes U.S.

Frank Diamond

Abuse of prescription pain medications came first. But that could be an expensive habit and you usually need a physician to sign off. So then came heroin, which could be bought cheaply from a dealer. Now, it’s fentanyl, according to the latest CDC statistics. And death rates from the drug have soared, with the number of deaths increasing every quarter since the fourth quarter of 2013.

Number of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl

Source: CDC, National Vital Statistics Report, March 21, 2019

Rates varied by region, with the highest number of deaths occurring in New England. That region was followed by the Mid-Atlantic region and Upper Midwest. On the other hand, death rates from fentanyl barely budged in the West, including Alaska and Hawaii. Kaiser Health News reports on the theories some experts hold.

“One is that it’s easier to mix a few white fentanyl crystals into the powdered form of heroin that is more common in Eastern states than into the black-tar heroin that is sold more routinely in the West,” KHN reports. “Another hypothesis holds that drug cartels used New England as a test market for fentanyl because the region has a strong, long-standing market for opioids.”


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