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SAMHSA News - September/October 2006, Volume 14, Number 5

Public Health Alert Issued on Fentanyl

Responding to an outbreak of overdoses and deaths around the Nation, SAMHSA recently issued a public health alert on the dangers of fentanyl combined with heroin or cocaine. A number of urban areas—including Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Philadelphia, PA; and Camden, NJ—reported overdoses and deaths involving this drug combination.

SAMHSA expanded efforts to alert first responders, hospital emergency rooms, health care providers, and the community about this new public health problem. The Agency issued a press release that included links to an alert letter and fact sheet on fentanyl from Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a schedule II prescription narcotic analgesic, roughly 50 to 80 times more potent than morphine.Fentanyl, a schedule II prescription narcotic analgesic, is roughly 50 to 80 times more potent than morphine. This medication is used to manage pain during surgery. In clandestine laboratories, fentanyl can be produced in powder form and mixed with or substituted for heroin.

Preventing Overdoses

Persons using heroin or cocaine, or in treatment/recovery from such use, need to know that:

  • The potency of street-sold heroin or cocaine is amplified by fentanyl.

  • There is no way to tell that heroin or cocaine is “cut” with fentanyl.

  • Because the potency of the drug purchased on the street is not known, any use—even a reduced dose—can result in overdose or death.

  • The effects of an overdose occur rapidly.

Fentanyl-related overdoses can result in sudden death through respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, severe respiratory depression, cardiovascular collapse or severe anaphylactic reaction. Furthermore, routine toxicology screens for opiates will not detect fentanyl.

For more information, contact SAMHSA’s Kenneth Hoffman, M.D., M.P.H., at kenneth.hoffman@samhsa.hhs.gov. Or visit SAMHSA’s Web site at www.samhsa.gov/drugalerts/fentanyl_july06.aspxEnd of Article

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SAMHSA News Information

SAMHSA News - September/October 2006, Volume 14, Number 5