Although numerous reports attribute fentanyl overdose deaths to illegally manufactured versions of the drug, new research shows that pharmaceutical fentanyl may be playing a significant role in the opioid crisis.

The numbers

The study, presented this week at the American Public Health Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Expo found that 44 percent of people who died from fentanyl overdose had previously been prescribed fentanyl by a medical professional, and 37 percent of those people had a prescription for fentanyl within 60 days of their death.

About 5 percent of people whose overdose deaths were caused by other drugs had a history of pharmaceutical fentanyl use, with 1 percent of those having a prescription within 60 days of their death.

This research examined and matched overdose death records with patients’ prescription drug data in Delaware between January 2013 and March 2015.

From this data, study authors concluded that fentanyl prescribed in combination with other drugs may produce fatal drug interactions, and that pharmaceuticals for fentanyl and other drugs may exacerbate existing health problems, leading to death.

More research needed

Lead researcher and professor of sociology at the University of Delaware Tammy Anderson said, “This data shows that the role of pharmaceutical fentanyl in the opioid crisis deserves further attention. The way the medical community prescribes fentanyl also warrants more examination, and it’s important that we learn more about how fentanyl interacts with other drugs and patients’ existing health problems.”