Fentanyl takes top spot as drug most frequently involved in deadly overdoses

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Fentanyl is now the most frequently found drug in overdose deaths in the U.S., surpassing heroin, according to National Vital Statistics report published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The report details the most commonly found drugs used in drug overdoses between 2011-2016 and the changes in the deadliest drugs throughout that period of time. 

The CDC is calling this the “third wave” of the opioid epidemic, that started with oxycodone ranking first in 2011. Then from 2012-2015, heroin ranked first, then in 2016 – fentanyl. 

In 2016, 29 percent of all drug overdose deaths mentioned the involvement of fentanyl, according to the report. 

Other statistics outlined by the CDC’s research: Two in five overdose deaths involving cocaine also mentioned fentanyl. Nearly one-third of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl also mentioned heroin. 

These trends are echoed by the experiences of first responders and recovery experts in East Tennessee. 

EMTs with American Medical Response (AMR), have administered Narcan, a naloxone drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, 130-140 doses a month according to AMR’s Clinical Manager, Chris Mclain. 

“Unfortunately this medicine, if exposed to the patient, it could actually affect our EMTs and paramedics the same – making it hard for them to breathe or they could quit breathing,” said Mclain. 

Mclain says he isn’t surprised by the report’s findings and says the common use of fentanyl is part of the job for EMTs that use safety precautions to keep from being affected themselves. 

As for recovery, the report’s findings are indicative of a bigger problem: The disease of addiction. 

“Treatment for fentanyl abuse or drug addiction is really not different than alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction. We don’t put emphasis on the drug being used, but rather, the treatment of addiction,” said Webster Bailey, the Executive Director of Marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery. 

Bailey says when new patients come for treatment, the first questions are focused on their “drug of choice” for medical treatment purposes. 

“Our focus of treatment is really treating the disease of addiction. The combination of those drugs seem to be the most dangerous,” said Bailey. 

Bailey says regardless of the kind of drug or alcohol abuse, Cornerstone of Recovery’s goal is to get to the root of the problem and treat addiction.

In November 2018, Bailey says 33 percent of patients at Cornerstone of Recovery were being treated for opioid abuse and 60 percent were being treated for alcohol. 

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