Powerful fentanyl cousins push rising death toll in Palm Beach County


Early last year, fentanyl’s chemical cousins were killing a Palm Beach County person on average every day. The state hadn’t even been tracking that powerful class of drugs, which include the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, two years earlier.

A collection of drugs related to heroin killed 81 Palm Beach County people in just May alone. It took almost all of 2011 and 2012 to kill the same number of people with the same drugs.

Those conclusions come from a Palm Beach Post analysis of Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s newest report, which shows the opioid epidemic continues to shift. Pills had been the main plague, which then shifted to heroin and then began including other drugs such as fentanyl, which is far more powerful.

Justin Kunzelman, founder of Rebel Recovery Florida, said officials are trying to fight the epidemic by focusing on drugs that came out of favor years ago.

“They’re not even focused on the right thing. They’re still talking about heroin and prescriptions of pain killers and trying to stop doctors from treating people. Realistically, overdose deaths are not going to get better until we decide we’re going to going to prevent the actual death,” said Kunzelman. He advocates for safe consumption sites, where medically trained staff oversee drug use so they can intervene and prevent deaths when people inevitably overdose.

Palm Beach County officials want to build an emergency room that would treat people who already had overdosed on an opioid.

The new state report shows that fentanyl and its chemical cousins caused the deaths of 254 Palm Beach County people in the first six months of 2017 alone. That’s about as many people as were killed by the drugs in 2009 through 2015.

The report also sheds light on how people are dying from more complex combinations of drugs. One Palm Beach County person died last year with nine drugs in his system, including cocaine, codeine, fentanyl, heroin and oxycodone. That combination of cocaine and opioids was not unusual.

The FDLE report showed that cocaine often was used at the same time as, or almost the same time as, illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.

Statewide, 383 more people died from cocaine in the first half of 2017 than they had in the first half of 2016.

Deaths from fentanyl itself went down slightly, but deaths from fentanyl’s chemical cousins killed 695 more people statewide in the same time period. In percentage terms: Cocaine deaths rose 59 percent while deaths caused by fentanyl’s chemical cousins rose 479 percent.

Kunzelman said many people who think they’re buying cocaine are getting a mixture with fentanyl.

In Palm Beach County, the FDLE found that deaths from fentanyl’s chemical cousins caused 174 deaths in early 2017, more than the 158 in all of 2016. The county led the state in deaths from fentanyl’s cousins, and had more deaths than five-sixths of the counties combined.

Statewide, fentanyl’s chemical cousins killed 840 people in the first half of 2017, slightly less than the 965 in all of 2016.

In comparison, The Palm Beach Post profiled 216 people who died from heroin-related overdoses in all of 2015 in its “Heroin: Killer of a generation” package.



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