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Fentanyl-related overdose deaths have spiked: How a synthetic opioid is affecting the drug market




The shadow of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is cast on a photograph of heroin and fentanyl during a news conference  the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC.
The shadow of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is cast on a photograph of heroin and fentanyl during a news conference the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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A recent analysis of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. shows that synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have surpassed prescription painkillers as the drug that’s most commonly involved in fatal overdoses.

Fentanyl is an incredibly potent painkiller that’s 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, and its increasingly common for heroin and cocaine to be cut with fentanyl, usually without the knowledge of consumers.

What is fentanyl and what are its legitimate uses? Why have fentanyl-related overdose deaths risen recently? And how is this changing the landscape of the opioid epidemic?

Guests:

Wilson Compton, M.D., deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); a federal government research center studying drug abuse and addiction; co-author of a paper on the role of fentanyl in opioid drug overdose deaths published in May in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

Shalini Shah, M.D., director of pain services at the UC Irvine health system and Chair of the Committee on pain at the California Society of Anesthesiologists, a group of physicians across the state working on managing and responding to the drug shortages