ANDERSON — Fentanyl overdose deaths are on the rise locally.

Overdose deaths in Madison County hit a high of 49 in 2017 and dropped to 33 in 2018.

The numbers are heading back up, and deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl have hit a new high.

In 2017, nine deaths involved fentanyl; in 2018, there were five. Through September of this year there have been 34 overdose deaths, 10 involving fentanyl. That’s one more than all of 2017 in just nine months.

“I was really kind of surprised when I looked at this data and how many we have for 2019, already in fentanyl specifically,” said Stephenie Grimes, Madison County Health Department administrator.

According to a report by the Indiana State Department of Health, the opioid crisis has come in three waves. It started with the increased prescribing of opioids in the late 1990s. The mid-2000s saw an increase in heroin as prescription opioids became harder to get. The third wave started in Indiana in 2014 and was driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

German chemists developed the first synthetic painkillers in the 1930s and later methadone that was used as a replacement for morphine when Germany lost access to the poppy, according to the Rand Corp. study “The Future of Fentanyl and Other Sythetic Opioids.”

Fentanyl was first synthesized in 1959 and was approved by the FDA in 1972. Now it is the latest chapter in Indiana’s opioid epidemic.

One reason identified by the Rand study is economic. Fentanyl cuts heroin dealers’ raw material costs by more than 99%. Users aren’t asking for fentanyl by name, but dealers are cutting it into heroin and cocaine to increase profit margins.
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