Department of Health: Fetanyl overdose deaths up 70 percent in state

Fentanyl deaths are increasing statewide and tests are finding it in more powders and pills, according to information released by the Department of Health.

State officials are citing an alarming increase in the number of deaths linked to fentanyl.

The DOH reports that illicit fentanyl is being found in new forms and is causing a spike in the number of overdoses in the state.

In the first of half of 2018, the agency says there have been 81 deaths linked to the opioid versus 48 deaths recorded during the same period last year. The DOH says that represents a 70 percent increase in deaths.

Officials said illicit fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids. It's also been found in various powders and presents a deadly risk to any drug user.

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Fentanyl is considered by experts to be 30 to 50 times stronger than pure heroin, and even a dose the size of a few grains of salt could be fatal.

"While fentanyl has been a significant cause of overdose death elsewhere in the United States, our state is now seeing the rise of its deadly impact," said Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer and co-chair of the state's Opioid Response Work Group. "We need people who take illicit drugs to seek treatment and take other actions to reduce their risk of an overdose."

Public health officials are urging people who use opioid drugs to take action and protect themselves from an overdose. They're especially concerned with people who will often take drugs too fast and as a result be at greater risk for an overdose.

The agency has warned people to be careful about using drugs too fast. Fentanyl is fast-acting and deadly. Many experienced opioid users have overdosed or died by using too much too quickly.