New study, based in Ohio, found fentanyl seizures strongly associated with opioid overdose deaths
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study has found that rising opioid overdose deaths in Ohio from 2014 to mid-2017 strongly coincided with increases in law enforcement seizures of fentanyl/carfentanil. This is the first study to offer evidence in favor of employing crime lab data as a viable indicator of nascent opioid overdose deaths. The study was published today in JAMA Network Open and conducted by Jon E. Zibbell, PhD, a senior public health scientist at the nonprofit research institute RTI International.
The study integrated drug seizure data from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) and overdose death data from the Ohio Department of Health. Ohio’s BCI provided drug seizure information associated with state and drug cases from the state’s 88 counties that were tested by three public labs. During the time frame analyzed, heroin seizures that contained fentanyl/carfentanil increased steadily as opioid overdose deaths surged. Of note, the model found that every additional fentanyl seizure predicted a 0.58 increase in deaths.
“These results show that through active data sharing between public health and public safety agencies, we can coordinate rapid responses in drug hot spots to reduce overdose mortality,” said Zibbell.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2017, Ohio had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the U.S. There were 4,293 reported deaths, a rate of 39.2 deaths per 100,000 persons compared to the national average rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. The greatest increase in deaths involved synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl.
The U.S. continues to experience the effects of the fentanyl crisis, with fentanyl overdose deaths increasing 525 percent from 2013 to 2016 and then increasing 45.2 percent from 2016 to 2017.
For more information on the study, including additional insights beyond what was published in the Research Letter, read the latest blog post from Dr. Zibbell.