Pubdate: Wed, 7 Dec 2016
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 Asbury Park Press


Heroin's deadly cousin, the synthetic opioid fentanyl, figured in 417
fatal drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2015, nearly three times the
number of fentanyl-related deaths in the year before, according to new
state figures.

The findings from the Office of the State Medical Examiner confirm the
fears of law enforcement and public health officials, who have been
forecasting an ever-rising body count from opioid addiction. In 2014,
the number of fentanyl-related deaths in New Jersey stood at 142.

In Ocean County, fentanyl deaths rose from 19 in 2014 to 51 in 2015,
according to the data. The number of deaths there in 2013 was four.

In Monmouth County, fentanyl-related deaths more than doubled, from 14
in 2014 to 29 in 2015. The total there in 2013 was three.

"This spike in fentanyl deaths starkly illustrates the tremendous
challenge we face to stem the alarming growth in opioid abuse in New
Jersey and across the nation," state Attorney General Christopher
Porrino said. "Drug abuse today too often takes the form of a tragic
progression from prescription painkillers, to the cheaper alternative
of heroin, to a deadly dose of fentanyl or a fentanyl knockoff,
frequently disguised as or mixed with less potent opioids like heroin
and oxycodone."

In 2013, 46 fatal overdoses were tied to fentanyl in New Jersey. Then,
fentanyl overdoses were largely due to the abuse of pharmaceutical
fentanyl, used to treat the breakthrough pain of cancer patients --
pain that daily opioid medications cannot quell -- and to ease the
suffering of the terminally ill.

But since 2014, the sharp rise in deaths is largely due to
fentanyl-laced heroin.

Fentanyl produced in China started making its way to the Unites
States, then via the mail and from Mexico, according to the DEA. A
kilogram of fentanyl can be purchased for as little as $2,700 and
theoretically fetch as much as $20 million -- 1 million one-miligram
doses yielding $20 a piece.

The same kilogram could kill a half-million people in

The latest version, counterfeit opioid pills containing nothing but
fentanyl or a fentanyl analog, could kill many more.

All drug deaths in New Jersey rose sharply as well, from 1,305 in 2014
to 1,587 in 2015, a more than 20 percent increase, according to the
state data. Heroin deaths statewide increased from 701 in 2014 to 918
in 2015, up 31 percent.

"Out of control"

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said the fentanyl death
figures are no surprise. And he fears much worse.

"As bad as it was in 2015, it's going to be horrendous in 2016," he
said. "The numbers are just going to continue to spiral out of control."

Coronato said 72 percent of the drug deaths in Ocean County in March
2016 involved fentanyl. More than half the heroin tested contains the
synthetic opioid, he said.

"And we're seeing more and more pure fentanyl in these packets," he
said. "I don't think we've seen the worst of it."

Overall drug deaths in Ocean County in 2016 stand at about 180 with
more than three weeks left in the year. The total in 2015 was 118.
Most of the increase this year was due to fentanyl, Coronato said.
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