Connecticut has joined nearly two dozen other states in reporting fatal overdoses involving a designer version of fentanyl that was recently designated a Schedule I drug by the federal government.
Furanyl fentanyl is an illicit, designer version of fentanyl that’s been identified in fatal overdoses here in the last few months, according to Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill said. Gill said the drug’s presence of the drug in Connecticut has been reported to both local authorities and the federal Drug enforcement Agency.
The DEA placed this fentanyl analogue on its Scheduled I list, which includes drugs such as heroin, in November. An analogue means its an opioid with similar chemical structure acting in the same receptors in the body.
“It is an illicit, designer version of fentanyl that has similar actions as fentanyl but has a slightly different chemical structure. It can be difficult for toxicology labs to detect,” Gill said, via an email.
Gill said it’s “tough” to compare furanyl fentanyl’s potency to fentanyl, though the DEA reported that furanyl fentanyl can cause seizures when used in powder form.
This drug’s use mirrors the state’s trend of increased overdoses involving fentanyl. Gill said he didn’t have exact numbers of fatal overdoses involving furanyl fentanyl, but overall, fatal overdoses involving fentanyl continue to rise in Connecticut.
Last year, figures from Gill’s office reported fentanyl was involved in at least 188 fatal drug overdoses, a sharp rise from 2014 and 2013, which had 75 and 37 fatal overdoses including fentanyl, respectively.
The drug has even outpaced heroin, which has long been the most popular illicit opioid on the streets, as the deadliest drug in nearby Long Island, New York, according to the New York Times. Fentanyl’s rise has been reported across New England, where opioid use remains a front-page public health concern.
Gill’s 2016 estimate for Connecticut is staggering: He projected in September that 446 fatal overdoses will include fentanyl. Overall, Gill is projecting 888 people will die of drug overdoses in Connecticut this year.
At least 22 states and Washington D.C. have reported lab results containing furanyl fentanyl this year, according to the DEA, which noted that it was not aware of any lab identifying this substance prior to 2015. The Cook County Government in Illinois issued a press release in April noting the county’s Medical Examiner’s Office had seen an increase of deaths attributed to fentanyl, including at least seven deaths caused in part by furanyl fentanyl.
At least 128 confirmed fatalities have been linked with furanyl fentanyl, according to the DEA, including 49 in North Carolina, 41 in Maryland, 36 in Illinois, and 1 in New Jersey and in Ohio. This number includes overdoses deaths in 2015 and 2016.
According to the DEA, furanyl fentanyl was first described in patent literature in 1986 and has no approved medical use. It has also not been approved by the FDA for human consumption, according to the DEA.
The drug’s widespread presence prompted the DEA in September to issue an intent to temporary place furanyl fentanyl into a Schedule I drug category under the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to its website. Their request was made final in November. This allows the federal agency to impose any criminal, civil and administrative sanctions applicable to other Schedule I drugs, such as heroin.
“This action is based on a finding by the Administrator that the placement of furanyl fentanyl into schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety,” the final order read.
In Connecticut, federal and local law enforcement agencies have made two major fentanyl busts this year, including last week’s seizure of about 55 pounds of fentanyl in Derby with an estimated value of $1.5 million. This amount —which as enough to kill every Connecticut resident twice over— dwarfed what federal authorities in May had called the single biggest drug bust of the synthetic opioid in the state’s history after seizing 2.5 kilograms (about 5.5 pounds).
Connecticut distributed a DEA factsheet for local emergency medical services in October about carfentanil, an opioid that’s 100 times more potent than fentanyl that’s typically used to tranquilize large animals. Gill said Thursday that this drug, which is also a fentanyl analogue like furanyl fentanyl, has not been detected by his lab.
Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data indicating overdose deaths from illicit opioids topped 33,091 last year, which the White House in a statement said was driven in large part by a “sharp increase” in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. This was increase from the 28,647 overdoses deaths involving opioids in 2014.
Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901