New CDC data system provides unique insights into the evolving illicit opioid crisis
Over half of people in 10 states who died of opioid overdoses during the second half of 2016 tested positive for fentanyl, according to new data published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Early Release.
The report found that out of a total of 5,152 opioid overdose deaths, almost 3,000 tested positive for fentanyl, and over 700 tested positive for drugs that have similar chemical structures to fentanyl (fentanyl analogs) – including the extremely potent fentanyl analog, carfentanil, which is used to sedate large animals.
This is the first report on data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS), which tracks fatal opioid overdoses and is a component of CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) program. SUDORS makes it possible to use toxicology and death scene investigation data previously unavailable across states, to provide insights into specific substances and circumstances driving overdoses. This information can help uncover changes in the opioid epidemic and inform interventions.
CDC researchers examined opioid overdose deaths from July 1 to December 31, 2016 in 10 states: Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Recent CDC actions in response to the opioid overdose epidemic
Because of the large proportion of opioid overdose deaths testing positive for fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, opioid overdose surveillance must expand to track the rapidly changing illicit opioid market. Funding for enhanced and timely surveillance is one of CDC’s key investments to inform opioid overdose prevention efforts. CDC has:
- Released two Health Alert Network advisories on fentanyl and fentanyl analogs: https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/han00395.asp; https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/han00350.asp.
- Funded 32 states and Washington, D.C. through the Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) program to produce more timely data on fatal and nonfatal opioid (prescription and illicit) overdoses, including circumstances of fatal overdoses, such as the specific drugs involved and route of drug administration.
- Starting in fall 2017, CDC funded ESOOS states to expand forensic toxicology testing of opioid overdose deaths to detect fentanyl analogs and other illicitly manufactured synthetic opioid drugs.
- Collaborated with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) to share data; engage local communities; and undertake strategic, evidence-based responses designed to foster immediate reductions in overdose-related fatalities.
- Collaborated with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and supported increased access to medication-assisted treatment and increased availability of naloxone in sufficient doses to reverse the effects of opioid overdose and reduce the number of overdoses resulting in death.