The number of accidental overdose deaths in Vermont involving the synthetic drug fentanyl increased significantly last year, according to a new report.
The Vermont Department of Health just released its annual overdose report to the Legislature, which notes that between 2016 and 2017, there was a 33 percent increase in the number of people whose accidental death involved fentanyl, which is increasingly being mixed into batches of heroin.
"We fully expect that when there are deaths, they will include fentanyl," said Vermont's Health Commissioner Mark Levine. "That's what's out there now. That's the crisis in the country, is fentanyl is such a high proportion of the products that people with substance use disorder are purchasing."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is "30-50 times more potent than heroin," according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to the Vermont Health Department report, there were six accidental deaths that involved fentanyl in 2012; there were 68 last year.
The report also says that in 2017, a total of 104 people died in Vermont from accidental overdoses involving Schedule II, III or IV drugs — that number has more than doubled since 2012, when there were 45 fatalities as a result of accidental overdose of those drugs.
However between 2016 and 2017, the total number of accidental overdose deaths in the state that involved Schedule II, III or IV drugs remained the same, which Levine says highlights the work the state is doing to reach people with substance abuse disorders and to cut down on wait times at treatment centers.
"I think if you want to find a silver lining in the good news in this data, is that we have really ... plateaued, in terms of the number of overdose deaths, in a country where the numbers continue to escalate," Levine said.
But Levine says the steady rise in the number of deaths that involve fentanyl point to the danger people face when they move away from prescribed pain killers and buy heroin and fentanyl in the streets.
Levine says the report that was released this week was presented to the Legislature to meet a mandated deadline, and that the numbers in the report will be finalized later this month.