We already know that fentanyl is incredibly dangerous and is involved in more deaths than heroin. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sheds light on exactly how lethal it it — and who it’s hitting the worst.
According to the report, fentanyl deaths have risen 12-fold between 2013 and 2016. The report, which analyzed death certificates that included references to fentanyl or drugs like fentanyl, says that while there were only about 1,600 fentanyl overdose-related deaths in 2011 and 2012, that number has been increasing in recent years, peaking at 18,000 fentanyl-related deaths in 2016. “These are pretty astounding numbers in terms of the percentage increase per year,” researcher Merianne Spencer, a statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told U.S. News and World Report.
In addition to underscoring the staggering overall death toll associated with fentanyl overdoses, the CDC report also revealed which populations have arguably been hardest hit by the epidemic: people of color. The study showed that both black and Hispanic people experienced rapid increases in rates of fentanyl-related fatalities, with fentanyl-related deaths increasing 140.6 percent every year in the black community and 118.3 percent annually in the Hispanic community.
The CDC report tracks with the results of a Stanford University study from last February, which found that opioid overdose deaths were increasing in cities with large African American populations, such as Washington, D.C., where the death rate from opioids has tripled in recent years. The study’s authors wrote that while the opioid crisis has traditionally been viewed as affecting primarily low-income white people, “a wider range of populations [are now] being affected, with the spread of the epidemic from rural to urban areas and considerable increases in opioid-related mortality observed in the black population.”
A synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl has traditionally been prescribed in patch form as a pain reliever for patients with terminal cancer. It is increasingly being sold on the black market and cut with heroin and cocaine, often without the user or even the dealer’s prior knowledge. The CDC has previously reported that fentanyl-related seizures increased nearly seven times between 2012 and 2014.