A Las Vegas doctor weighed in on the newly released information regarding fentanyl deaths in Southern Nevada, and what could be behind the uptick.
According to data released by the Southern Nevada Health District, deaths involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogs (drugs designed to mimic the pharmacological effects of fentanyl) are increasing in Clark County.
To date, there have been 63 deaths involving fentanyl among Clark County residents this year. In 2019, there were 28 deaths during the same time, an increase of 125%.
“Fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin and about 100 times more potent than morphine," says Dr. Krystal Riccio.
Dr. Riccio is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Roseman University, and is part of the school's Drug Abuse Awareness Team.
She says fentanyl is usually prescribed as a treatment for pain relief, and on the streets it can be injected, snorted or smoked.
There were 64 fentanyl deaths in 2019 and 46 deaths in 2018.
Nationally, deaths involving prescription opioids, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, have been declining.
Deaths involving synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have been increasing. This trend has also been observed in Clark County. During January-May of this year, there have been 53 deaths involving prescription opioids compared to 63 deaths involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.
This is the first time Clark County has had more deaths involving fentanyl than prescription opioids. Some of these fentanyl-related deaths also involved prescription opioids, and the Health District will continue to monitor the trend to better understand how fentanyl is impacting opioid overdoses in the community.
Dr.Ricco says unfortunately a lot of people aren’t familiar with the drug’s they're consuming, which can create a fatal combination.
“We’re seeing it mixed with not just other opioids like heroin to make it more potent, but it can even be mixed with meth or cocaine and someone could not knowingly digest it," Dr. Riccio.
One-hundred and seventy-three Clark County residents have died from fentanyl since 2018.
Of these, 68% were male. Racial breakdowns were as follows: 76% White; 16% Black; 3% Asian; and 2% Native American. Deaths primarily occurred among individuals aged 15-54 years old (86%), with 25% among those aged 25-34. Other drugs are often involved, with the most common being prescription opioids (29%), benzodiazepines (27%), psychostimulants such as methamphetamine (23%), cocaine (20%), and heroin (9%).
These proportions are not mutually exclusive as more than one drug can contribute to a death.
The Health District and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend carrying naloxone, also known as Narcan, an opioid-antagonist that can be administered to help reverse opioid overdoses.
"A box of Naloxone has two nasal sprays that are available within them, and these are free to the community," says Dr. Riccio.
The Health District offers free naloxone at its pharmacy located at 280 S. Decatur Blvd.
Additional overdose prevention measures and training are available to the community through local harm reduction organizations, including Health District partner organization Trac-B Exchange.