Researchers: Fentanyl deaths up 122% in West Virginia

Published: Apr. 17, 2019 at 5:36 PM EDT
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New research from West Virginia University shows the strong grip drug addiction has in West Virginia.

A team from WVU studied trends in drug-related deaths between 2005 and 2017 in West Virginia.

Their research showed that deaths from fentanyl are on the rise, while deaths from prescription drugs are declining.

The team found that between 2015 and 2017, deaths from fentanyl more than doubled from the previous 10 years, going from 487 to 1,082 deaths, coming out to a 122% rise.

Prescription drugs played a role in 75 percent fewer deaths from 2015 to 2017 as opposed to the previous 10 years.

Researchers say a number of different things caused the spike in fentanyl related deaths. One reason is an increase in illegal imports of the drug from China. They also say the potency of the drug and the fact that it is mixed with other substances played a role.

According to researchers, West Virginia's increase of fentanyl-related deaths is part of a national trend.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, deaths from fentanyl overdoses spiked across the United States in 2015 and, as of 2017, continued to climb.

In 2017, West Virginia led the nation in fentanyl overdose deaths.

Researchers say they wouldn't be surprised to see those numbers continue to trend upward as they get the numbers from 2018.

In Cabell County in 2017, there was a spike in overdoses, especially in the month of August. Many of those overdoses were linked to a batch of fentanyl.

Researchers say fentanyl is sometimes blended into heroin or sold as a counterfeit prescription pill, leading drug users to unknowingly take the substance.

The study recommends widespread distribution of naloxone, an overdose reversing medication.

However, Cabell County's EMS Director Gordon Merry tells WSAZ that overdose numbers went down in 2018 and are still going down this year. He contributes that to a number of different factors including the Quick Response Team.

The West Virginia University study was funded by National Institutes of Health.

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