Fentanyl most common overdose drug in Baltimore

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Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was the most common drug found in the systems of overdose patients at two Baltimore hospital emergency departments, according to a University of Maryland study.

The drug was detected in 73 percent to 87 percent of urinalysis specimens tested from January 2016 through December 2019. Of the specimens, 13 percent contained only fentanyl, while 61 percent also contained other drugs.

Fentanyl testing was first implemented for all patients undergoing urine screenings at the hospitals in January 2019 but is not conducted routinely nationwide. These results indicate that hospitals should consider adding fentanyl to their routine drug testing panels, the researchers concluded.

“The overdose cases we see in our emergency departments stem from a wide variety of substances that may not be known and present increasingly complex treatment challenges,” Dr. Zachary D.W. Dezman, the study’s lead author and University of Maryland Medical Center assistant professor of emergency medicine, said. “In the case of fentanyl, without knowing its true role in these overdoses, public health officials and policymakers will find it difficult to implement the correct measures to improve patient care and help prevent substance abuse.”

Hospital laboratories routinely test for cocaine, methadone, and opiates. Opiate screenings generally detect codeine and morphine, but not fentanyl.

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