The US opioid epidemic may be getting even worse. Preliminary data suggests overdoses are soaring, while law enforcement officials have been warned about the dangers of fentanyl after it caused a police officer to collapse.In a speech this week, the US Drug Enforcement Administration deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein noted preliminary data suggesting drug overdose deaths rose nearly 20 per cent in 2016, compared with the previous year. Official rates won’t be available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) until later this year, but data compiled by the New York Times suggests overdose deaths in the US probably exceeded 59,000 in 2016.Rosenstein also urged people working in law enforcement to practise extreme caution when handling fentanyl, a synthetic opioid between 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug is prescribed for severe pain, but is increasingly being sold on the street, often mixed with heroine or other drugs.Fentanyl is so powerful that it poses a threat to emergency service staff who encounter it as part of their job. “Inhaling just a few airborne particles could be fatal,” said Rosenstein. “Our police officers and first responders face this danger every day.”Last month, a police officer in Ohio collapsed after merely brushing some fentanyl off his shirt. He survived, but required four doses of the overdose treatment Narcan. Law enforcement officers have also suffered exposures in New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut, Rosenstein said.
Police warned of drug so powerful it can kill in one breath