The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has issued an advisory to the treatment community about a marked increase in deaths since the beginning of the year that were reportedly linked to the use of heroin contaminated with the drug fentanyl. Fentanyl is a form of opioid, and when used in combination with heroin, can cause severe injury and even death. There have been 17 deaths linked to the possible use of fentanyl-contaminated heroin in the Pittsburgh, Pa. area alone since January 24, 2014. In January, there were 22 such deaths reported in Rhode Island. These trends can expand quickly to include large and more distant geographic areas of the country. There have already been reported cases in New Jersey and Vermont.
According to the advisory the origin of the fentanyl is unknown at this time.
Heroin is an extremely dangerous drug of abuse because it subjects its users to a wide array of risks such as overdose and increased exposure to Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. It often contains other ingredients which render it even more potentially harmful -- or in this case deadly.
SAMHSA’s advisory requests that treatment providers alert their patients and the greater community stakeholders to be alert to the increased risk of a fatal overdose. SAMHSA recently released an Opioid Overdose Toolkit containing information on recognizing and responding appropriately to overdose in a manner suitable to a variety of stakeholders. It can be read or downloaded at: http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Opioid-Overdose-Prevention-Toolkit/SMA13-4742.
The advisory also urges people dealing with heroin or other opioid problems to get treatment. Medication assisted treatment using FDA-approved treatments such as methadone, buprenorphine and extended release naltrexone can effectively treat heroin/opioid addictions and enable people to recover to healthy, productive lives. Those seeking treatment for opioid dependence can find help through SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator at: 800-662-HELP (4357) or online at:http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/index.aspx.