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July 24, 2022

How Common Is Fentanyl Use In Massachusetts?

Even though fentanyl was designed to help treat severe physical pain, many people use the substance recreationally. This form of substance abuse has become especially prevalent in Massachusetts. In fact, reports, news articles, and statistical data show that fentanyl has now become the primary cause of opioid deaths in the state. Because of this, Massachusetts, despite numerous efforts to combat and treat opioid abuse, remains one of the epicenters of the nation’s opioid crisis. Here’s what you need to know about fentanyl, how the drug is used, its prevalence in Massachusetts, and what we’re doing to help curb the issue and treat the addiction.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a prescription painkiller used to treat severe pain that’s about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. You may also hear fentanyl referred to as a synthetic or manmade opioid. This means that fentanyl was manufactured in a laboratory and specifically designed to have a chemical structure similar to opioids naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. Though legal, fentanyl can be illegally manufactured and used for illicit purposes.

When used legally, fentanyl helps relieve advanced cancer pain or severe pain experienced after surgery. When doctors prescribe fentanyl, the drug is usually referred to by one of the following name brands: Actiq, Lazanda, Duragesic, Nasalfent, Subys, or Sublimaze. Typically, doctors give patients a shot of fentanyl, but the medicine can also take the form of a patch that’s put on the skin or a lozenge that looks like a cough drop.

Sadly, many people abuse fentanyl because of its potency. Illegal fentanyl typically takes the form of a powder, nasal spray, or pills that resemble other prescription opioids. Sometimes, fentanyl is put into eye droppers or dropped onto blotter paper and then sold for recreational use. Other times, people take apart legal fentanyl patches, remove the contents, and then ingest or inject the drug into their veins. Fentanyl can also be smoked. When used recreationally, fentanyl is often referred to as “apace,” “China Girl,” “China Town,” “China White,” “Dance Fever,” Goodfellas,” “Shine,” “Great Bear,” “He-Man,” “Poison,” “TNT”, or “Tango & Cash.”

What Makes Fentanyl So Dangerous?

Fentanyl is extremely potent. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on the size of your body. That’s why fentanyl should only be used when prescribed by a doctor. Despite this, illegal fentanyl continues to be made and trafficked throughout the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has found counterfeit fentanyl pills containing .02 to 5.1 milligrams per tablet, which is more than twice the lethal dose of fentanyl. One dose of fentanyl, especially if taken incorrectly or by someone without a prescription, can result in accidental death.

Fentanyl is also dangerous because street dealers combine the drug with heroin or cocaine to enhance the euphoric effects. Users are often unaware of this combination, which has drastically increased the number of overdose deaths throughout the state and nation. Without any kind of government regulation, illegally made fentanyl can be mixed with many types of life-threatening chemicals. In fact, most cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, or death have been linked to illegal forms of the substance.

Fentanyl Use In Massachusetts

Massachusetts has the 15th highest rate of drug use in the United States. Opioids, like fentanyl, make up a large portion of the state’s drug use. In fact, fentanyl has become the state’s primary cause of opioid overdose and death. Since opioid overdose deaths have hit a new peak in Massachusetts, fentanyl has appeared in 92 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the state. Experts believe increased access to illegal fentanyl has greatly contributed to the problem.

Some of the midwestern and southwestern states are experiencing the front edge of fentanyl in their communities the way we did in 2016,” UMass Memorial Health opioid specialist Dr. Kavita Babu said. “There’s some lag with fentanyl showing up in communities where it wasn’t available before.” Sadly, that availability has contributed to an increase in fentanyl use. New reports from drug enforcement agents in the state show just how prevalent fentanyl has become in Massachusetts.

  • In September 2020, a Massachusetts man was sentenced to 97 months in federal prison for delivering heroin and fentanyl to a drug organization working out of a residence in Massachusetts that led to at least 1 overdose death.
  • In May 2021, another Massachusetts man was sentenced to 150 months in federal prison for participating in a drug trafficking organization that sold fentanyl to people in various New England states.
  • In Boston, police warned that street dealers were selling fentanyl pills that were designed to look like oxycodone, a popular prescription painkiller.

These trafficking organizations have made illicit fentanyl readily available, which has increased the prevalence of fentanyl misuse, addiction, overdose, and death. “Fentanyl is causing deaths in record numbers and the DEA’s top priority is to aggressively pursue anyone who distributes this poison,” Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle declared. Statistics confirm the special agent’s sobering remarks.

In 2018, data from a local report reveals that for every 100,000 people in Massachusetts:

  • Approximately 16 Black men lost their lives using synthetic opioids like fentanyl
  • An estimated 31 white men died from using synthetic opioids like fentanyl
  • Approximately 14 women died from fentanyl-related causes
  • Slightly more than 40 men in the state passed away using synthetic opioids like fentanyl

All of the state’s statistics were higher than the nation’s fentanyl-related death rates.

What Does This Mean For Massachusetts?

This isn’t the first time Massachusetts struggled to combat opioid misuse, addiction, overdose, and death. In 2016, more than 19,000 people died from opioid-related causes. That same year, more than 1,500 people in the state died from fentanyl-related causes. In fact, 2016 was the year fentanyl soared past heroin to become the dominant opioid in Massachusetts. Overdose deaths peaked that year, a record that was held up until the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, overdose death rates in Massachusetts have hit a new peak.

Beyond the obvious increase in overdose deaths, this means that Massachusetts:

  • Continues to experience an opioid crisis. In 2020, there were 2,104 confirmed and estimated opioid related overdose deaths, 102 more than in 2019.
  • Experiences higher rates of drug-related birth complications. Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or neonatal opioid withdrawal symptoms (NOWS) can occur when a woman uses opioids during pregnancy. In 2017, the rate of NAS/NOWS in Massachusetts was 13.7 cases per 1,000 hospital births compared to the nation’s 7 cases per 1,000 hospital births.
  • Has high rates of infections related to drug injections. In 2017, 25% of male HIV cases and 30% of female cases were related to injection drug use. The state also had 327 new cases of acute Hepatitis C (HCV) related to injection drug use.

Flexible, Outpatient Treatment For Fentanyl Misuse and Addiction

When used correctly, fentanyl can help relieve severe pain. When used incorrectly or illegally, fentanyl can lead to addiction, overdose, and accidental death. But quitting fentanyl isn’t easy. Lessening the amount of fentanyl you consume or quitting cold turkey can cause severe cravings, insomnia, anxiety, hypertension, an elevated heart rate, stomach cramps, vomiting, and pain. Our flexible treatment programs can help you overcome withdrawal symptoms and quit fentanyl for good. Let us help you get there. Contact Meta today to learn more.