Fentanyl-laced opioids drive jump in fatal overdoses

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Every day, an average of 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2016 alone, 42,000 Americans lost their lives in a fatal drug overdose, and 40 percent of those deaths involved prescription opioid.

Deputy Director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat says you can see the opioid crisis playing out in ERs across the country, where overdoses jumped by a third.

"When we looked at emergency room visits for last year, we saw that they were 30 percent higher than the year before,"

Dr. Schuchat believes that jump in drug overdoses isn't more people becoming addicted. 

Instead, she says, the drugs people are abusing are becoming more deadly, laced with the powerful synthetic opioid like fentanyl.

Used to treat patients with severe pain, fentanyl is being illegally mixed into street drugs, like heroin, intensifying the high, and ratcheting up the danger.

"Much of the drug supply, whether it's heroin, or prescription drugs, or, now, cocaine and methamphetamine, has fentanyl in it that can be 50 times more potent, and very, very lethal."

Dr. Schuchat says the CDC is working with state public health departments, tracking overdoses, looking at what can be done to save lives, trying to expand access to medication like naloxone, which can reverse a fatal overdose, if given in time.

But, she says, addiction often begins in the doctor's office, with a patient who is hurting, and doctor who wants to help by writing a prescription.

 "Prescription lays the groundwork," Schuchat says.  "Many people's first exposure to opioids, or their pathway toward addiction, begins with prescriptions."

So, Schuchat says, the CDC is pushing the healthcare community, and the public, to reconsider the risks of treating pain with a pill.

"We want the public to be aware that a prescription opioid may not be the best idea for the problem they have, and really trying to help prevent people from getting addicted in the first place," she says.