Fentanyl overdose rates “rising exponentially” in Indianapolis

A study has shown that fentanyl-linked overdoses rose at a huge rate between 2010 and 2017 in Indianapolis, and is now the dominant cause of overdose deaths.

Fentanyl is often found in counterfeits of prescription drugs prone to abuse – such as oxycontin, hydrocodone and alprazolam – so is often taken inadvertently although its sometimes sought out by addicts as it is a powerful (and extremely risky) opioid pain reliever in its own right.

It’s widely reported to be a key factor in the escalating death rates from opioid overdosing, but the research team wanted to put some hard data behind that hypothesis by examining all coroner reports for overdose deaths from Marion County, whose jurisdiction covers Indianapolis and as a population of around 1m people, including full toxicology screens.

There were 1,583 overdose deaths recorded in the country between January 1, 2010 and April 30, 2017, and 377 of them (almost 24 per cent) were linked to fentanyl over the period. The average age of death was just over 40 years, and two-thirds of cases involved males.

“Rates rose exponentially over time, beginning well below 15 per cent from 2010 through 2013 before rising to approximately 50 per cent by 2017,” they write in the journal Addictive Behaviours (November 2018).

Changing demographics

Rates of lethal fentanyl-related overdose appear to be highest for young and middle-aged people, and while there were vey low rates in black people at the start of the decade, by the end of the research period featured far more prominently.

In 2010, the risk of a lethal overdose was 3 per cent in blacks and 9 per cent in whites, but by 2017 that situation was reversed at 61 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively.  The authors suggest black people were more likely than whites to encounter fentanyl as the drug entered the illicit market in the middle of the decade.

“In the media, the opioid epidemic has largely been framed as a white problem. Our findings suggest that, in Indianapolis at least, this may have been partially true in the past but is no longer the case,” the write.

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