Fentanyl Deaths on the Rise as Heroin Overdoses Decline

Since 2010, the tidal wave of prescription Opioid abuse has started to subside with the government crackdown on Opioid manufacturers and distributors. So, too, have rates of Heroin addiction and overdose fallen in more recent years. In 2018, only 4 of New Hampshire’s 397 Opioid-related deaths involved Heroin. Instead, 363 of the Granite State’s fatal Opioid overdoses involved the analogue 50 times more powerful than Heroin: Fentanyl. In the northeastern section of the country, Fentanyl abuse (and deaths) have become a new epidemic and are killing more people than all other Opioids.

In 2017, Fentanyl overtook Heroin and other Opioids (such as Oxycodone and Percocet®) as the leading cause of overdose death in the United States. Many experts believe the incredible potency of the drug, combined with its relatively cheap production cost, make it more valuable to drug trafficking organizations and street dealers who can expect much greater profits from its sale, compared to Heroin. In Baltimore, for instance, the city with the second-worst Fentanyl problem in the nation, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that Fentanyl has almost entirely replaced Heroin.

We were hearing people start to say, ‘I want the old stuff again, I want the brown,’ meaning Heroin. But traffickers just started mixing Fentanyl with something that had a brown tinge to it. They’re never, ever, ever going to go back to selling Heroin around here again.

Jon DeLena
associate special agent to DEA’s New England division, 2019

In response, Fentanyl deaths from New Hampshire to West Virginia and Ohio have skyrocketed – the drug has also become a problem along the rest of the eastern seaboard and has devastated communities down into Georgia and Florida. Of the locations with the highest per capita overdose deaths related to Fentanyl, 5 counties were in Ohio, 2 in West Virginia, and 1 in Kentucky as well as the cities of Baltimore and St. Louis.

From 2013 to 2017, the rate of Fentanyl-related overdose in Cabell County, West Virginia, was 62.9 deaths per 100,000 residents (the national average is 21.7 deaths per 100,000 people). For citizens seeking addiction treatment in Cabell county, waitlists can delay treatment for months.

Fentanyl Statistics


Synthetic Opioid deaths increased 46.4% (to a record 28,869 people) in 2017.


The most recent Fentanyl and other synthetic Opioid related overdose data indicates 10,520 deaths between May and August 2018.

more deaths

In Maryland, 566 people overdosed due to Fentanyl in the first 9 months of 2018, 257 more deaths than the total number of murders that year.

Finding Recovery After Fentanyl

Because Fentanyl is so much more powerful than Heroin and prescription painkillers (no matter how they’re abused), quitting Fentanyl can be that much more difficult. People who have taken Fentanyl describe the “high” as overwhelming and immediate. Many people (even those with a history of Heroin abuse) lose consciousness within seconds; breathing can stop shortly after.

William Glen Miller, a 64-year-old who first tried Heroin at the age of 13 in West Baltimore, told the Times that Fentanyl “doesn’t take a second for it to hit you.”

“All I remember is pushing in the needle, and three hours later I am getting up off the ground,” he said.

For those trying to quit, the grip of Fentanyl can be unimaginable.

Mr. Miller said he had had to use Fentanyl 10 times a day to avoid withdrawal, up from two or three times a day for Heroin.

'In Cities Where It Once Reigned, Heroin Is Disappearing'
The New York Times, 2019

To safely halt Fentanyl and other Opioid abuse, it is crucial that people seek the help of a professional detox and rehab center. Opioid detox can be dangerous due to symptoms of withdrawal that may be both painful and life-threatening. For example, the dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea can lead to seizures, coma, and death. Painful withdrawal symptoms (that can feel like an intensely severe case of the flu) can make some people decide to quit detox altogether – making them even more vulnerable to overdose if they resume drug use.

Some detox facilities can provide medication-assisted treatment like Buprenorphine and Methadone to ease symptoms of Fentanyl withdrawal and curb drug cravings. To find a detox or rehab program near you, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website for location information.