Dec 13, 2018 - Health

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the U.S.

Fentanyl package

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday confirmed what experts have been warning: Fentanyl is not only deadly on its own, but is also contributing to other drugs' high death rates.

The big picture: As the nation's addiction crisis has unfolded, the No. 1 cause of overdose deaths has shifted from prescription drugs to heroin to fentanyl. And now cocaine — a stimulant, making it the odd man out — is also seeing a spike.

  • Many overdose deaths involve more than one drug, and fentanyl crops up in a lot of those cases.

What they're saying: "Fentanyl overdose deaths, of course, keep going up. Cocaine overdose deaths [are] going up. The question we really have to get to the bottom of is: Is much of that [from] the lacing of cocaine with fentanyl? We certainly have seen some of that," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at an Axios event yesterday.

By the numbers: While only about 1,600 overdose deaths were attributable to fentanyl in 2011 and 2012, this skyrocketed to more than 18,000 in 2016.

  • About 40% of deaths attributed to cocaine overdoses also involved fentanyl, according to the CDC, as did 37% of heroin deaths and 19% of deadly oxycodone overdoses.

Related: Fentanyl is so potent (and so easy to smuggle into the U.S.) that now experts are worried about it as a potential weapon for terrorists, Bloomberg's Anna Edney reports.

  • “Fentanyl-based drugs have been used in conflicts in other countries, so we know it’s possible," said Rick Bright, the director of the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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