Lafayette, LA (KPEL News) - Opioids have been on the radar of medical professionals and first responders in Louisiana and across the country for years, with the overdose treatment Narcan available in their units and even sold over-the-counter to prevent deaths. In Lafayette and the eight parish area, deaths from drug overdoses increased by 219% from 2016-2021.

One drug increasing in popularity that's more potent than fentanyl showed up in the Louisiana and has been making its way across the country for the past couple of years.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control about the number of deaths due to opioid overdose paints a bleak picture.

Opioid overdose graph
Courtesy Centers for Disease Control

The chart shows the dramatic increase in the number of deaths from opioids overall, largely due to "other" synthetic opioids both illicit and prescribed.

Between 1999 and 2021, 645,000 people died from opioid overdose. Alarmingly, the rate of opioid deaths in 1999 increased six fold in 2021. More shocking is that opioids overdose represented 75% of the deaths caused by drugs in general in 2021.

What is a synthetic opioid?

The Drug Enforcement Agency defines a synthetic opioid as:

substances that are synthesized in a laboratory and that act on the same targets in the brain as natural opioids (e.g., morphine and codeine) to produce analgesic (pain relief) effects.

What's most concerning is that the effects of these synthetic opioids, like fentanyl and methadone, are greater than those of their natural counterparts, codeine and morphine.

Fentanyl and methadone are approved for medical use under strict supervision and regulation, but they are often acquired and abused by the public. Fortunately, Narcan is effective if it is administered properly under the appropriate conditions.

What is the Frankenstein Opioid?

Nitazines are referred to as "Frankenstein Opioids." They are a Schedule I synthetic opioid narcotic. According to the St. Tammany Parish coroner Dr. Charles Preston, the deadly drug is unbelievably potent:

It can be 1,000 times more potent than morphine, a 100 time more potent than fentanyl, and it’s also a concern they’re relatively easily built from ingredients that can be obtained from different kinds of stores.

Dr. Preston also expressed concern to Louisiana Radio Network about the fact that nitazines often aren't caught in a standard toxicology screen because they are being produced and distributed faster than the labs can create screening protocols.

The American Family Physicians send up an alarm for two reasons:

  • Nitazines are often mixed with heroine or fentanyl.
  • Multiple doses of Narcan are required to counteract an overdose.

Nitazines are distributed in two ways, either as a powder, liquid, or a pill. The counterfeit pill, according to the DEA, is falsely marketed as a form of dilaudid or oxycodone.

The news only gets worse. The DEA explained:

Tragically, many of these overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting these dangerous and extremely potent drugs. The DEA says these synthetic opioids currently can only be properly identified after a lab test, so people don't realize they're buying them until it's too late.

The Louisiana Department of Health is working to combat the opioid crisis, especially during the holidays when drug use escalates.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug abuse, Louisiana has resources available in each parish.

opioid help
Courtesy Louisiana Department of Health

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