State officials urge caution in light of recent deaths linked to synthetic opioids

From North Carolina Health and Human Services:

19 Recent Deaths Associated With Synthetic Opioids; State Officials Urge Awareness 

State Toxicologists detect different types of synthetic opioids and chemicals, all more potent, dangerous than heroin

RALEIGH, N.C. – State health officials are alerting law enforcement and medical professionals of potent synthetic opioids, including furanylfentanyl, following at least 19 related fatalities in North Carolina since the beginning of this year.

In addition to acetyl fentanyl, the subject of a health alert in February 2014, and chemically similar furanylfentanyl, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner toxicology laboratory has also identified two other chemically similar drugs associated with recent fatalities. These other drugs are among a group of opiate-like drugs sometimes substituted for and sold on the street as heroin. People who knowingly or unknowingly use these drugs are at serious risk of death.

“The recreational use of synthetic drugs represents a major threat to public health,” said Chief Medical Examiner, Deborah Radisch, MD, MPH. “It’s very important for medical professionals and law enforcement to be aware of these dangerous drugs, and know that people they encounter who may have used these drugs could require specialized care and treatment. We encourage family members and healthcare professionals to talk to loved ones and patients about treatment for substance use.”

The geographic range of deaths attributed to these drugs indicates widespread use and availability across the state. None of these drugs is available by prescription in the United States.

The toxicology laboratory also reports cases associated with the research chemical U-47700. Research chemicals are drugs that are used in medical and scientific research and are not intended for human consumption.

“The use of research chemicals is a growing problem in North Carolina,” said Chief Toxicologist, Ruth Winecker, PhD. “In addition to U-47700, we have detected six other new research chemicals in North Carolina deaths in the last six months.”

The final death certifications in these cases are pending.

Several initiatives are taking place collectively to address substance use across the state. For treatment options and more information about how the Department of Health and Human Services is addressing substance use visit:

Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services
Division of Public Health Injury and Violence Prevention
Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use

About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at

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