New data from major cities and expert insight indicate fentanyl-related deaths will continue to be a scourge on the nation.
New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed to Fox News that drug overdoses now account for 80% to 85% of the city’s accidental deaths — an increase from 60% in years past, a spokesperson said.
The office said that the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl, fueled the sustained increase.
Health officials in Cook County, which encompasses Chicago, estimate that opioid overdose deaths will be totaled at more than 2,000 once pending toxicology tests are completed — surpassing the 1,936 deaths of 2021.
“People say, ‘Well, I can’t imagine what that was like,’ and I say to them, ‘No, you can’t, because you don’t know unless it happens to you,'” Sandra Pippa said.
Pippa’s son, Dorian, died in 2016 after unknowingly using a drug laced with fentanyl. He had turned 29 years old the day prior to his death.
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Pippa’s son battled addiction and had achieved sobriety for periods of time.
“We lived in Westchester [New York] at the time, and he said he was going into the city to see some friends,” Pippa said. “You know, he never came home.”
Her son was found unconscious in the bathroom of a Metro-North train headed to their family home.
“I don’t understand how it happens, how it comes in and gets just funneled through onto the streets the way it does,” the mother said. “It’s unbelievable, it’s horrible, and I just I can’t see what they’re going to do about it.”
Dorian Pippa’s death occurred before heightened conversations about illicit fentanyl. Nearly seven years since his death, researchers are increasingly gaining new knowledge about the drug, its analogues and emerging trends.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at National Institutes of Health, said, “We have seen a significant rise in fentanyl deaths every single year, and this accelerated during the COVID pandemic. We have seen decreases in overdose deaths from heroin, from prescription opioids, but not from fentanyl.”
She continued, “Fentanyl is now distributed all over the United States at lower prices than heroin, so it becomes an easy target for drug dealers to actually sell instead of other products — so, it’s almost like self-perpetuating.”
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The emergence of more fentanyl-laced drugs and fentanyl-related deaths will continue through 2023, Volkow predicted.
Some fentanyl-related deaths are described as “fentanyl poisonings” because an individual perhaps had no prior knowledge of the opioid’s presence in their substance use.
“If you think about it in terms of the drug dealers, they want to get the product that is better than the one sold by the other person, so there’s competition between them,” she said. “A way of getting a product that may be more valuable is to combine it with xylazine because the duration, the intensity of the effects of the opioids are going to be longer lasting.”
Xylazine is a pharmaceutical drug used for animal sedation and commonly known as “tranq dope” in the illegal drug market.
Despite the bleak outlook as it pertains to the spread and distribution of fentanyl, Volkow reminds others that recovery is possible.
“As addictive as fentanyl is, it can be treated, and that’s the message that I actually would like people to have,” she said. “If you are addicted to fentanyl, or you know someone that’s addicted to fentanyl, I encourage them to go to treatment because it can save your life and treatment works.”
Pippa has a message of her own.
“You got to talk to your kids, you have to tell them that they can’t ever be sure about anything that they get from another friend or a friend of a friend,” she said.
“Our grief has softened [and] we can still, you know, live our lives, but he’s still with us all the time,” the mother continued, holding back tears.
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