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MMWR: fentanyl involved in majority of opioid overdose fatalities

Tuesday, April 18, 2017  
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MMWR: fentanyl involved in majority of opioid overdose fatalities

Apr 17, 2017 Clinical Essentials from MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep


  • Fentanyl is involved in the majority of opioid overdose deaths in southeastern Massachusetts, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
  • The majority of respondents who survived overdose had administered or observed administration of naloxone (Narcan).

Why this matters

  • Health officials should expand existing overdose education programs to include fentanyl-specific messaging.
  • Access to naloxone should be increased.

Study Design

  • 196 overdose deaths were investigated in 3 counties with serious opioid overdoses in southeastern Massachusetts (2014-2016).
  • Researchers also interviewed 64 adults who had used opioids in the last year and had observed or experienced an overdose in the past 6 mo.
  •  Funding: Massachusetts Department of Public Health and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Key results

  • Among 190 opioid overdose deaths, the proportion involving fentanyl increased from 32% during 2013-2014 to 74% in the first 6 mo of 2016.
  • 82% of fentanyl-involved deaths were from illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
  • 36% displayed evidence that overdose occurred within seconds or minutes.
  •  7 5% of living respondents reported successful reversal of overdose with naloxone.


  • Because the study was restricted to 3 counties in southeastern Massachusetts, results may lack generalizability to other US counties.


Somerville NJ, O'Donnell J, Gladden RM, Zibbell JE, Green TC, Younkin M, Ruiz S, Babakhanlou­Chase H, Chan M, Callis BP, Kuramoto-Crawford J, Nields HM, Walley AY. Characteristics of Fentanyl Overdose - Massachusetts, 2014-2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(14):382-386. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6614a2. PMID: 28406883


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