CHICAGO — A potent, new opioid called acrylfentanyl has already killed 44 people since the beginning of 2017, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office said Monday.
That's up from seven deaths attributed to the drug in 2016.
Fentanyl is prescribed by physicians for severe pain. Acrylfentanyl, is a new illegal version of fentanyl, called a fentanyl analog.
"Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are very powerful drugs that are likely to be lethal," said Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, Cook County’s Chief Medical Examiner, in a press release. “Just one dose can easily stop a person from breathing, causing immediate death.”
Dr. Steve Aks, emergency medicine physician and toxicologist at Stroger Hospital, said these "high-potency" opioids and opioid analogs are much stronger and more fatal than other opioids like heroin.
“In many cases, one dose of naloxone, the heroin antidote, will revive a person who has overdosed on heroin," Aks said. "But we are seeing people in our emergency department who need increased doses of naloxone — in some cases as many as four doses — for the patient to be stabilized after ingesting fentanyl, or a heroin/fentanyl combination."
The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office has reported an increase in opiate-related deaths since 2015 with 1,091 deaths in 2016 and 649 in 2015 being attributed, at least in part, to an opiate-related overdose. Fentanyl or fentanyl analogs were responsible for 562 of the deaths in 2016.
The City Council approved a measure in its budget last November that requires Chicago pharmaceutical representatives to be licensed in an effort to end what officials said is an epidemic of deaths from heroin and other opiates.