National Fentanyl Epidemic Started in Rhode Island Says Report

Thursday, March 14, 2019


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A comprehensive series published by The Washington Post about the failures of the administrations of President Barack Obama and Donald Trump on combating America’s greatest public health crisis -- drug overdoses -- claim that the Fentanyl epidemic began in Rhode Island.

The Post article cites a CDC Health Advisory from 2013 sent to public health experts:

“Since March 6, 2013, 14 overdose deaths related to a novel, injected non-prescription synthetic opioid have occurred among intravenous drug users in Rhode Island.  Ten of those deaths occurred in March.  On May 30, 2013, Rhode Island Department of Health confirmed that the implicated synthetic opioid is acetyl fentanyl, a fentanyl analog previously undocumented in illicit drug use.  Acetyl fentanyl is not available as a prescription drug in the U.S.

The age of the persons who died from an acetyl fentanyl overdose ranged from 19 – 57 years, and 10 of the decedents were male.  The toxicology testing results for most of the decedents showed, in addition to acetyl fentanyl, varying mixtures of drugs, including cocaine, heroin (morphine), ethanol, and benzodiazepines.  However, none of these additional substances were present in all decedents and none of these persons tested positive for fentanyl by GC/MS after testing positive for fentanyl by ELISA. Toxicology results for one decedent showed only acetyl fentanyl (by GC/MS) and no other substances.  These deaths represent a significant increase in the number of illicit drug overdose deaths compared with the number of cases typically reported in one month in Rhode Island.”

Former Rhode Island Department of Health Director Michael Fine told the Post that when a series of deaths hit in Rhode Island, he asked for a deeper investigation.

The Post Reports:

The first signs were detected in the spring of 2013 when overdose deaths spiked at the state morgue in Providence. Then-Rhode Island Health Director Michael Fine wondered: What was killing so many so quickly?

Fine was surprised to learn when the toxicology reports came back that 12 people who overdosed between March and May had died from fentanyl. They ranged in age from 19 to 57, and most were from the northern part of the state.

Fine notified the CDC about the cluster. On Aug. 30, 2013, the CDC in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlighted the unusual spike in Rhode Island. It didn’t attract much national attention.

RI Health Confirms the Post Report

Rhode Island Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken confirms the timing of the first national outbreak.

“Rhode Island was one of the first states to start seeing fentanyl deaths, and work happening at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH)’s State Health Laboratories has played a significant role in the nation’s response to the fentanyl crisis. Acetyl fentanyl, an analog drug of fentanyl, was first identified here at the RIDOH’s State Health Laboratories in 2013. RIDOH State Health Laboratories continue to provide timely detection of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in seized drugs, and identifies them in fatal and nonfatal overdoses,” said Wendelken in a statement to

Fentynal gained traction because, “It was 20 times more profitable than heroin by weight. By lacing a little of the white powdery drug into their heroin, the dealers could make their product more potent and more compelling to users. They called it China White, China Girl, Apache, Dance Fever, Goodfella, Murder 8 or Tango & Cash," reports the Post.


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