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Biological Chemistry

New Illicit Drug Linked To Deaths

by Cheryl Hogue
September 9, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 36

A designer drug related to a prescription narcotic has been implicated in the deaths of dozens of people in the U.S. Northeast this year. The new illicit drug is acetylfentanyl, an analog of fentanyl, which is a potent pharmaceutical used to treat severe or chronic pain. From March to May, 14 deaths of intravenous drug users in Rhode Island were linked to this synthetic opioid, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recently reported (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 2013, 62, 703). Acetyl­fentanyl has also caused 50 deaths and five nonfatal overdoses in Pennsylvania this year, says the state’s Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs. According to that state agency, acetylfentanyl has the same consistency and color as heroin, and CDC says it is up to five times as potent as heroin. CDC is encouraging public health officials and laboratories to screen specimens from people who have died from opioid overdoses for this compound and report positive findings. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays that give positive results for fentanyl should be followed with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to check for acetylfentanyl, CDC says.


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