Research in Brief: Effective Use of Naloxone in Response to Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Overdoses

Opioid abuse is on the rise in the United States, with an estimated 2.1 million people with a substance abuse disorder related to pain medications and another 467,000 addicted to heroin.1 Although the U.S. death rate from heroin overdoses has doubled from 2010 to 2012, twice as many people die from prescription drug abuse as they do from heroin.2 More than 40,000 individuals die annually from poisoning, making it the number one cause of injury-related death in the United States. Drugs are involved in 90 percent of the poisonings, and 40 percent of the drugs involved are opioids.3 This increase in opioid poisonings could be related to the increase in prescription patterns—the prescribing of opioids has increased 270 percent in the last two decades, including more than 207 million prescriptions in 2013.4 Methadone is implicated in 31 percent of the deaths caused by opioid pain relievers. In addition, episodes wherein fentanyl or similar high-potency opioids replace or contaminate abused drugs can lead to clusters of severe overdoses in areas where the drug was distributed.

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