Philadelphia health officials are warning that, as overdose deaths again increased in 2020, that one of the deadliest components of the overdose epidemic, fentanyl, is being infused with illicit drugs more than ever.
"In 2020, testing of persons who died of drug overdose increasingly found fentanyl mixed with other drug types, including stimulants, hallucinogens, and synthetic cannabinoids," the city said in a statement released Wednesday.
Overdose deaths among methamphetamine users involving fentanyl increased 350% during the first nine months of 2020, the city said. As of Sept. 30, the latest available data, 950 people died from accidental overdoses, and 8 out of every 10 of those deaths involved fentanyl, officials said.
"Fentanyl is also being pressed into pills that resemble prescription opioids or benzodiazepines," health officials said. "While fentanyl has been in Philadelphia’s heroin supply for several years, its presence in non-opioid drugs and counterfeit pills is especially concerning as individuals who prefer these drugs may have had little exposure to such a potent opioid and may be at an even greater risk for overdose."
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2020 was the deadliest year ever for overdoses in Philadelphia. The surge is being fueled by deaths among methamphetamine and PCP users.
The city's top substance abuse official said fentanyl is now prevalent in illegal drug sales in many neighborhoods.
"Until recently...most drug sales involving fentanyl were occurring in Kensington and South Philadelphia. We focused most of our outreach efforts on a subpopulation of drug users in two specific geographic regions," Dr. Kendra Viner, director of the Health Department’s Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction division said. "Now fentanyl is in everything and everyone who obtains drugs from an illicit source is potentially at risk."
The Philadelphia Health Department will begin a public awareness campaign in early 2021 that utilizes mass media outlets to get the word out about the high risk of fentanyl in illegal drugs, and the city will continue to distribute naloxone.