New Report Shows Synthetic Opioids Now Overtake Prescription Opioids in Amount of Fatal Overdoses


WASHINGTON, DC – A new report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) details that synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl – a drug 50 times more powerful than morphine – are now the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths.

CNN reports, “The researchers found that about 46 percent of the 42,249 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016 involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, while 40 percent involved prescription drugs. That’s more than a three-fold increase in the presence of synthetic opioids from 2010, when synthetic drugs were involved in approximately 14 percent of opioid-overdose deaths.”

As detailed by this report, the emergence of illicit synthetic drugs has given the opioid crisis an even firmer grip on our nation. The use of new and even more potent opioids is devastating families in every community.

The report also flagged a trend in fentanyl overdoses: the prevalence of another substance in the person’s system. As STAT News reports, “Nearly 80 percent of those who died from a synthetic opioid-related overdose in 2016 also had another drug or alcohol in their system. Of the roughly 12,000 heroin-related deaths reported in 2016, 37 percent also involved synthetic opioids.”

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report examining 2016 data for drug overdose deaths. CDC analyzed data from 31 states, including the District of Columbia, from 2015 through 2016. The data showed that synthetic opioids continue to play a large role in the opioid crisis ravaging our communities.

At a roundtable discussion last month, Mr. Michael Gray spoke about how fentanyl took the life of his daughter, Amanda. Remarking about the synthetic opioid’s potency, he called it the “spark to the tinder box.”

#SubOversight examined the rise of fentanyl in a March 2017 hearing, and how it has emerged as a public health and security threat. Last November, bipartisan committee leaders sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regarding the use of pill presses in fentanyl pill mills.

#SubHealth has also been examining legislative solutions to the growing synthetic opioid crisis. At a February 2018 hearing, #SubHealth reviewed H.R. 2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA Act, authored by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), which would give law enforcement the tools they need to help get illicit synthetic drugs off our streets without compromising important public health and research protections.

And at a two-day hearing last month focused on prevention and public health solutions, #SubHealth reviewed two additional bills in the synthetic opioid space. One of which was a discussion draft authored by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) that would provide grants to federal, state, and local agencies for the establishment or operation of public health laboratories to detect fentanyl, its analogues, and other synthetic opioids. The second being H.R. 449, the Synthetic Drug Awareness Act, authored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), which would require the U.S. Surgeon General to submit a comprehensive report to Congress on the public health effects of the rise in synthetic drug use among youth. Both bills passed #SubHealth last month by voice votes.

To learn more about Energy and Commerce’s comprehensive efforts to combat the opioid crisis, click HERE.