Fentanyl Addiction and Death: New Faces and Statistics
by Lisa DiFalco
Fentanyl addiction is a significant problem in some U.S. communities; it has become the deadliest drug on Long Island and affected many in New Hampshire and other areas of the country.
According to the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is described as a:
“powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.”
Fentanyl received additional attention in the 2016 toxicology report that determined the cause of death of the acclaimed musician and performer, Prince, to be fentanyl toxicity. Fentanyl and opioid addiction are also addressed in the recent Relias article, Celebrity Death and Opioid Addiction: Current and Future Solutions. Fentanyl is a highly addictive substance, hitting Long Island suburbs and New Hampshire towns, and often combined with available street drugs.
As of 2016, fentanyl has been attributed to 220 or more deaths on Long Island, NY, based on medical examiners’ records. As of January 1, out of 240 opioid deaths in Suffolk County, 130 deaths were linked to fentanyl, while a mixture of fentanyl and heroin were responsible for 45 deaths.
While many people may be addressing the opioid crisis and cracking down on opioid-based substances, healthcare professionals need to show considerable caution when prescribing fentanyl for patients. Learn more about fentanyl and how it is affecting local communities.
Joann Piche: A New Face of Fentanyl Addiction
Not everyone who becomes addicted to fentanyl is looking for a high. Working professionals such as Joann Piche, Westhampton Beach psychotherapist, is a respected professional who was caught in the web of addiction. In 1998, she began taken a fentanyl transdermal patch to manage the pain from a chronic medical condition. Piche was not taking the drug to get high, but to manage pain from her condition. Withdrawal symptoms made it necessary for her to continue to receive new prescriptions on time.
“I don’t want to be misunderstood. The problem with the medication is that the withdrawal symptoms were agonizing and immediate. There was no ‘high’ involved for me. I was not a drug-seeking drug addict. I was prescribed this patch by a pain management physician.”
Withdrawal symptoms were severe. She experienced vomiting and flu-like symptoms with any interruption to timely delivery. She said:
“This medication is so potent and so addictive, even when you use it for the first time, your body experiences withdrawal immediately.”
As a young mother, when she began treatment, Piceh was unaware of the side effects of the medication and its highly addictive qualities. In an attempt to address her pain, fentanyl caused issues that interfered with her ability to function. She shared:
“I was sleeping all the time; it causes you to become even more debilitated. I was prescribed pain management medication in order to function and not be hospitalized, yet it was so potent that I was sleeping all the time and becoming more disabled because of it.”
She took fentanyl for seven years until she decided to wean herself off. She has become one of the faces of awareness that friends, mothers, professionals and people of all ages can become addicted to fentanyl.
Piche is not alone. Fentanyl addiction and overdose in on the rise on Long Island. Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association in Mineola, said:
“Fentanyl has become a major deal in Long Island and elsewhere, which frankly, isn’t a shock. We all saw this coming a few years ago, and now many of the skyrocketing overdoses are attributable to drug combinations that include fentanyl.”
Surprising Fentanyl Death Rates in New Hampshire
New Hampshire has had an issue with addiction in the past, but a recent study showed some startling statistics. It was found that New Hampshire leads the way in terms of fentanyl overdose deaths and has the “highest per-capita fentanyl death rates in the country.” Bethany McLeman, research project manager of Northeast Node, National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trial Network, said:
“New Hampshire is the leading state in the nation for fentanyl overdose deaths per capita.”
Prior to fentanyl, the state had issues with cocaine and heroin.
According to a New Hampshire HotSpot report, “The Increase in Fentanyl Overdoses,” fentanyl deaths rose 1,629 percent from 2010 to 2015. Some 41 percent of overdoses occurred in Hillsborough County. As for 2016, projections are estimated at 470 deaths from drug overdoses. Recently released 2016 statistics include:
- 385 deaths via overdose;
- Fentanyl involvement in 282 cases; and
- 85 additional 2016 cases “pending toxicology” reports.
The six counties with the biggest fentanyl issues are Strafford, Sullivan, Rockingham, Hillsborough, Grafton and Cheshire. Surprising revelations during interviews are that individuals knew they were taking fentanyl. Andrea Meier, director of operations of the Northeast Node, National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Network, Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, said:
“People are actually seeking fentanyl, and they are seeking out their dealer because it must be really good stuff. So that’s alarming.”
A new report will be released in April that summarizes important discoveries from the 110 people currently being interviewed, ranging from those who have used the drug to first responders and emergency personnel. Fentanyl has shown to be a highly addictive substance that is actively sought out. Since individuals from all walks of life can be susceptible to a fentanyl addiction, whether prescribed or sought out, it behooves policymakers and healthcare professionals to take steps to be certain that a fentanyl prescription is a necessary route for patients under their care. Prevention of addiction-exhausting pain management alternatives may be one way to stem the tide of the growing fentanyl addiction and overdose problem.