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Feature Briefing

Fentanyl misuse in the UK: will we see a surge in deaths?

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 09 April 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1564
  1. Ingrid Torjesen, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. ingrid_torjesen{at}

The US epidemic of overdose caused by the synthetic opioid could replay here, some commentators have suggested. Ingrid Torjesen investigates

Why should we care about fentanyl misuse?

For years, the US has struggled with opioid addiction that stems from patients becoming dependent on prescribed painkillers and recreational use. Illicit synthetic opioids—carfentanil in particular, which can be 100 times more potent than prescription fentanyl—are responsible for a sudden surge in deaths.1 Between 2012 and 2016, US deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone rose more than sevenfold, to 20 145. Out of a total of 64 080 deaths by drug poisoning in 2016, they have become the leading cause, overtaking heroin, which killed 15 446 people.2 Canada faces a similar epidemic, and several European countries have had recent increases in deaths from synthetic opioids.3 Estonia had the highest rate of overdose deaths in Europe in 2015—102.7 per million population, five times the European average (20.3)—with synthetic opioids implicated in most, …

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