According to the National Vital Statistics Report released by the CDC on Wednesday, oxycodone was responsible for the most overdose deaths in the country in 2011. Then from 2012 to 2015, it was heroin. Now, the newly released numbers from 2016 show fentanyl took the top spot, claiming more than 18,000 lives.
“He was an athlete, he was a quarterback for his high school football team and had lots of injuries, and lots of prescriptions for opioids,” said Justin Phillips of her son Aaron, who died of an overdose from heroin in 2013 at the age of 20.
Phillips has since started the nonprofit Overdose Lifeline, which is dedicated to fight the epidemic.
“They’re putting fentanyl in pretty much anything you purchase off the street,” Phillips said.
According to the study, in 2011 fentanyl claimed just over 1,600 American lives. By 2015, that number was more than 8,000. In 2016, it was more than 18,000.
“We’ve been trying to tell people about the dangers of this for quite a while,” said Dr. Brad Ray who is the Director of the Center for Health and Justice Research at Indiana University.
Ray has been studying drug overdoses locally. He found that before 2013, less than 15 percent of overdose victims in Marion County had fentanyl in their system. By 2017, it was more than 50 percent.
“Fentanyl is being mixed in with a lot of other drugs, so we’re finding fentanyl in a lot in overdose deaths, because it’s being mixed in with other substances,” Ray said
Ray says the drug is being mixed into other drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and even cocaine, often to unsuspecting customers.
“The vast majority of people who consume fentanyl do not know that it’s in there,” Ray said.
While the reported numbers have skyrocketed, Ray believes the drug is claiming even more victims every year due to underreporting.
“Traditionally in Indiana, about half of all accidental drug overdose deaths we don’t know what the drug was because we haven’t been running toxicology reports,” Ray said. “We do a good job of counting the number of drug overdose deaths, it’s just what caused those deaths. No one takes the time to look, and we’re working on that.”
Phillips’ organization does distribute the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and also has testing strips so users can test drugs for fentanyl before they use.