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MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Jan 18;68(2):37-40. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6802a3.

Overdose Deaths Involving Fentanyl and Fentanyl Analogs - New York City, 2000-2017.

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Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, Care, and Treatment, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City, New York.


Unintentional drug overdose deaths have climbed to record high levels, claiming approximately 70,000 lives in the United States in 2017 alone (1). The emergence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl* (a synthetic, short-acting opioid with 50-100 times the potency of morphine) mixed into heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit pills, with or without the users' knowledge, has increased the risk for fatal overdose (2,3). The New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) conducts routine overdose mortality surveillance by linking death certificates with toxicology findings from the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). A 55% increase in the rate of fatal drug overdose in NYC was observed from 2015 to 2017, resulting in the highest number of overdose deaths recorded since systematic reporting began in 2000. Toxicology data indicate that this unprecedented increase in overdose deaths is attributable to fentanyl. Early identification of increased fentanyl involvement enabled DOHMH to respond rapidly to the opioid overdose epidemic by increasing awareness of the risks associated with fentanyl and developing effective risk reduction messaging. These results strongly suggest that, wherever possible, jurisdictions should consider integrating toxicology findings into routine overdose surveillance and work with local medical examiners or coroners to include fentanyl in the literal text on death certificates.

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Conflict of interest statement

All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE form for disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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