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Fentanyl has overtaken heroin and oxycontin as the leading cause of fatal drug overdoses in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers revealed this on Dec. 12, 2018, while also noting that the prescription painkiller claimed more lives than cocaine and meth.


Fentanyl, which is often prescribed and administered under the brand names Duragesic and Actiq but is also available in generic forms, was cited as a contributing factor in 18,335 deaths during 2016. Overall, medications in the same opioid class such as hydrocodone, methadone, morphine and oxycodone, alone or in combination, killed roughly 32,000 U.S. residents.

The totals have climbed steadily each year since 2011, which is the same year that my Virginia dangerous drug law firm posted an open letter titled “Fentanyl Pain Patch: Merchant of Accidental Overdose, Part II.” That actually followed more than one blog post and legal article highlighting the deadly risks from fentanyl. It also appeared when it became obvious that this 2010 letter to the FDA had spurred no meaningful action on the urgent needs to

  • Restrict use of fentanyl only to patients in the last stages of terminal diseases,
  • Require all uses of fentanyl to occur in supervised health care settings, and
  • Limit prescribing of each opioid.

Halting steps toward addressing opioid overprescribing and addiction are finally being taken, but those are far too little and far too late for the thousands of dead Americans and their grieving friends and families. And while lawmakers, regulators, drug companies and far too many health care providers were ignoring the deadly dangers of legally prescribed and dispensed fentanyl, illegal supplies of the opioid were hitting the streets. Used alone or mixed in with more-expensive heroin to extend supplies, fentanyl triggers death by having a much stronger narcotizing effect than most other opioids.

As a personal injury and wrongful death attorney who takes a special interest in helping victims of dangerous drugs, I do not have the one, surefire solution to the fentanyl problem. I have known for more than a decade that bold and effective action is needed to save lives. Instead, FDA is doing things like approving the sale of sufentanil (Dsuvia), which is actually 10 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Check back in 2028 when sufentanil claims the dubious distinction of deadliest drug.


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