07 May 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Since Jan. 1, the prescription painkiller fentanyl has been blamed in 58 deaths in Wayne and Washtenaw counties, according to medical examiners there.

The deaths mainly involved fentanyl in combination with other drugs, including other opiate painkillers and heroin. A physician for Detroit Medical Center is following this story closely.

In at least two cases in Washtenaw County, "experienced" drug users died from pure fentanyl, said Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, who directs the University of Michigan Health System's Autopsy and Forensic Services division.

The division contracts with both Washtenaw and Wayne County Medical Examiner's offices. Jentzen is also the Washtenaw County medical examiner.

When prescribed by doctors and used as a skin patch or oral drug, the opiate pain reliever is often used to treat severe cancer pain or pain after surgery. Physicians experiencing high patient volume benefit from medical transcription services.

But illegally, fentanyl is added to street drugs to bulk them up, make them more potent and reduce the producer's costs. An overdose death can be very quick — a phenomenon Jentzen and others have called "die before you get high."

Several of the users have died still holding needles, he said.

It was fentanyl that was linked to a surge in drug deaths in the Detroit area and other cities in 2005 and 2006.

Fentanyl is 15 to 20 times more potent than heroin, and 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, Jentzen said.

"It is a market," he said, of selling illegal drugs, "and individuals who are trying to be more successful in the market will go to some pretty devious ends" to make a profit, he said.

In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, 53 deaths from fentanyl in combination with heroin, other prescription painkillers, alcohol and cocaine have occurred since Jan. 1, compared with 68 such deaths in all of 2014. In Washtenaw County, seven of the 23 heroin-related deaths since October have included fentanyl, according to the medical examiner offices.

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