ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

West Virginia: Fentanyl Deaths up 122 Percent in West Virginia

In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health, West Virginia University researchers Dr. Gordon Smith, Dr. Marie Abate and Zeng Dai found that fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise in West Virginia, even as deaths related to prescription opiods decline.

By analyzing all drug-related deaths in the state from 2005 to 2017, the research team — which included medical examiners from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources — discovered that between 2015 and 2017, deaths from fentanyl were 122 percent of what they were between 2005 and 2014.

In contrast, prescription opioids played a role in 75 percent fewer deaths between 2015 and 2017 than over the previous 10 years.

According to Dr. Smith, an epidemiologist in the West Virginia University School of Public Health, reasons for the increase in fentanyl-related deaths include more clandestine approaches to its manufacture, the fact that it’s easier to export and its potency.

“The big thing about fentanyl — and now carfentanil, a fentanyl analog that’s a thousand times stronger than morphine and heroin — is that it’s very easy to export. Instead of having to smuggle truckloads of heroin in, someone can send small packages through the mail,” he said.

West Virginia’s increase of fentanyl-related deaths is part of a national trend. As the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, deaths from fentanyl overdoses spiked across the United States in 2015 and, as of 2017, continued to climb. West Virginia, however, leads the nation in fentanyl-related deaths. It also has the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths overall.

Read more