There are two types of opioids: naturally-occurring and synthetic. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid.
Dr. Michael Ferri, medical director at Next Door, explained further, “There are naturally occurring opioids like morphine, which comes out of the poppy plant, the tar of the poppy pod. There are semi-synthetic ones like hydrocodone, oxycodone, which are derivatives of the naturally occurring poppy product, and then there are synthetic products, which are made to look just like the naturally-occurring opioids. For instance, fentanyl was invented in the 60s by a pharmacologist called Jansen.”
According to the State Medical Examiner’s office, there were 103 fentanyl-related deaths in 2016. That number grew to 180 in 2017.
In 2018, there were at least 346, but the state is still waiting for more data to complete the report.
A similar trend can be seen in Davidson County. The Health Department reports 60 fentanyl-related deaths in 2016, 105 in 2017, at least 174 in 2018, and so far in 2019, 15.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports the full chemical formula for fentanyl is N-(1-(2-phenethyl)-4-piperidinyl-N-phenyl-propanamide. However, creators use different derivatives which can increase the drug’s potency.
Dr. Ferri said it’s unpredictable, “Even the dealers have had a hard time cutting into a batch of heroin. Because it just takes a few grains to bring the potency up dramatically.” He adds the man-made drug can be 100 times more potent than naturally occurring opioids.
“It turns out that fentanyl is much more lipophilic, so it goes through the blood-brain barrier much easier than other, more naturally-occurring opioids,” Ferri added, “So that means higher concentrations right off the bat get into the brain. And when this molecule is floating around, and it meets the opiate receptor, it’s much more sticky on that receptor, and it induces a response to the nerve in a more effective way.”
See the impact fentanyl is having, as News 2 investigates the so-called Third Wave of the opioid crisis. We have special reports all day Thursday, in every newscast.
Join in on the discussion during our live town hall meeting at 6:30 pm on News 2.