Super Opioids—Just One Pill Could Kill You

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Examples include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever that is used to treat severe pain, such as cancer pain. Carfentanil is an analogue of fentanyl used to tranquilize elephants and other large animals. Heroin is an illegal opioid.

We hear about the opioid crisis almost daily as opioid overdose deaths continue to increase in the US and we’ve previously written about the impact of misuse in our own Arizona communities. The epidemic has changed in recent years. In 1999, the US started experiencing more overdose deaths from prescription opioids. This is attributed to increased prescribing of natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone. In 2010 we saw a rise in heroin overdose deaths. Arizona has been impacted as well, and at the beginning of 2018 Gov. Doug Ducey called a special session to address the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act. But what is causing more overdose deaths?

According to the CDC, the current wave in opioid deaths began in 2013. At that time the US started experiencing more deaths involving synthetic opioids, including illicitly-manufactured fentanyl (IMF) and its related analogues. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, and carfetanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Most fentanyl deaths are linked to IMF. IMF is often mixed with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine, and frequently the user does not know that the fentanyl is present. This is causing more overdose-related fatalities.

Counterfeit oxycodone containing fentanyl has been recovered in Arizona. According to a press release by the DEA in 2017, this oxycodone is manufactured in Mexico and smuggled into the US through Arizona. A Community Alert published by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office a few weeks ago confirms that pills recovered by law enforcement contained fentanyl and carfentanil. The alert urges “families to talk now, and often, about the dangers of drug use. With fentanyl-laced pills available in our community, it is very important that teens understand the life-threatening risk of sharing pills at parties, and how drug experimentation can have fatal consequences.”

The potency of these drugs also puts our first responders, healthcare workers, law enforcement personnel, and family members at risk. The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association has created an Opioid Compliance Toolkit for hospitals and outpatient clinics, as well as a webinar regarding Arizona regulations. We will continue to be a vital and vocal partner as we find solutions for our state’s opioid problem. What solutions are you finding in your community? Share with us below and become part of the conversation as we work to make Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation.

These tablets imprinted “M 30”contained fentanyl


These tablets imprinted “A 215”contained carfentanil



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