The Opioid Epidemic: Chief Medical Examiner releases 2017 drug-related death statistics
CONCORD — Is heroin the problem? NH1 examines the Chief Medical Examiner's statistics for New Hampshire's drug overdose deaths in 2016 and 2017.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner published a report Wednesday on the drug-related deaths over the past few years, including a breakdown into which drugs have proven deadliest in NH.
Although the dangers of fentanyl and heroin have become common knowledge, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald warned of the newest killer added to the 2017 data: Carfentanil.
For the unaware, carfentanil is a synthetic opioid developed specifically to tranquilize animals such as elephants. In order to sedate an animal that large, it requires much higher potency than drugs used by humans for the same purpose. To give you a quick glimpse into its power, carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and approximately 100 times stronger than the already deadly fentanyl.
In a letter attached to the statistics, MacDonald confirmed 10 deaths related to carfentanil use, which means four more people have died from the drug since a May report.
In that letter, MacDonald doubled down on his office's commitment to prosecuting any individuals charged with carfentanil crimes "to the fullest extent of the law" and stated the office was currently reviewing 39 cases involving the synthetic opioid.
Unfortunately for NH residents, those 10 carfentanil-related deaths barely scratch the surface for 2017 drug overdose deaths. In the first half of this year, 143 fatalities have already been confirmed due to drugs, with another 71 cases still pending toxicology. This means a potential 214 drug-related deaths in the first six months of 2017, a slight decrease compared to half of 2016's total number of 486.
The potential downtrend in overall drug deaths would provide a much-needed morale boost in the fight against the opioid epidemic due to the constant barrage of depressing drug-related statistics.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner provided graphs revealing a steep increase in drug overdose deaths over the last five years - up 300 percent from 2012 to 2016, but 2017 could feature the first drop in half a decade if numbers continue at the same pace.
Of course, this positive is still outweighed by the 143 confirmed deaths already this year, and the areas causing the most problems for citizens are consistent with 2016's data.
Of the 143 cases examined in 2017, 104 stemmed from some form of fentanyl use. Fentanyl is one of the deadliest drugs in the state, which was proven in 2016 when 331 people died from the drug.
Although many non-drug users believe heroin causes the most overdoses/deaths, the statistics reveal this to be the complete opposite. In 2017, there has been zero confirmed fatalities from just heroin, and only three in the entire year of 2016. For perspective, cocaine alone killed two people in New Hampshire in 2017, and it does not instill nearly the same fear that heroin does.
Overall, this data may shock some residents about the real killers when it comes to drug overdoses, but that is not the most important takeaway from the Chief Medical Examiner's report. It provides citizens with clear numbers on what exactly is killing New Hampshire residents and hopefully will lead to more solutions/treatment for the epidemic facing our community.