MORGANTOWN, W.Va (WVU) In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health, West Virginia University researchers Gordon Smith, Marie Abate, and Zheng Dai found that fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise in West Virginia, even as deaths related to prescription opioids decline.
By analyzing all drug-related deaths in the state from 2005 to 2017, the research team–which included medical examiners from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources–discovered that between 2015 and 2017, deaths from fentanyl were 122 percent of what they were between 2005 and 2014.
Why did fentanyl-related deaths skyrocket in 2015? One factor was a surge in illegal fentanyl imports from China. “Up until then, people who were shifting from legal prescription drugs to illegal drugs were shifting to heroin and opioids coming in from Mexico and other places. But then people started manufacturing fentanyl in China, setting up clandestine labs, staying one step ahead of drug-enforcement agencies,” said Smith, an epidemiologist in the School of Public Health.
West Virginia’s increase is fentanyl-related deaths is part of a national trend. As the CDC reported, deaths from fentanyl overdoses spiked across the United States in 2015 and, as of 2017, continued to climb. West Virginia, however, leads the nation in fentanyl-related deaths. It also has the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths overall.