SALT LAKE CITY — Overdose deaths related to the powerful painkiller fentanyl spiked by 78 percent in Utah last year amid a national opioid epidemic, according to a report from the Utah Department of Health.

Forty-one people died in 2016, the highest number since the state began tracking such information over a decade ago, Salt Lake City news station KSL-TV reported Tuesday. It also marks a sharp increase over the year before, when 23 people died. Before 2016, the high was 33 deaths in 2005.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can lead to overdoses in relatively small quantities. It’s been blamed for killing thousands of people in the U.S., including entertainer Prince.

It’s also dangerous because people who buy illicit drugs often have no idea what’s in them, said Angela Ito, the state Department of Health’s prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator.

“They don’t know what they’re getting into,” she said. “(The drugs are) being made to look like whatever it is people are buying.”

Ito said those who know someone who could be at risk for an overdose should have the reversal drug naloxone on hand, since medical personnel might not arrive in time.

The state health department is also concerned with the safety of police and first responders as fentanyl-related cases increase. Though the drug can’t usually be absorbed through healthy skin, state epidemiology manager Nathan LaCross said that’s not the only danger.

“If it’s suspended (in the air) and you’re inhaling it, and it’s getting onto those mucosal surfaces — your mouth, and your throat, and your lungs — that’s a different story,” LaCross said. “It’s much more easily absorbed through those surfaces, and it’s much easier to get that high-enough dose to get an adverse effect.”


Information from: KSL-TV, http://www.ksl.com/

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