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Most fatal opioid overdoses are not caused by prescription drugs, US study finds

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 11 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l5993
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

Most fatal opioid overdoses are caused by illicitly made fentanyl and heroin, rather than prescription opioids, according to a study looking at deaths in the US state of Massachusetts.1

The study, which analysed opioid toxicology reports between 2013 and 2015, said prescribed opioid exposure appeared to have a “more distal” effect on overdose risk, by acting as a gateway drug.

The researchers have now called on policymakers to focus on “educating, engaging, and treating people who use illicitly made fentanyl and heroin” alongside work to prevent the misuse of prescription opioids.

In the US in the 1990s and early 2000s, annual increases in opioid related overdose deaths paralleled increases in opioid prescriptions for pain. But since 2010, opioid prescribing has levelled and declined while opioid related overdose deaths have …

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