The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) shared information about fentanyl and similar drugs in a press release on Thursday.

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Fentanyl is a synthetic, or manmade, opioid, and in a prescription form, it is used by doctors to treat patients with severe pain, but illicitly manufactured fentanyl is also a concern.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said in the release:

"Because fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, it can also be more addictive and clearly more dangerous...The increase over the last couple of years in overdose deaths is partially due to an increase in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths," Harrist said. "In fact, between 2018 and 2021 the number of synthetic opioid-involved fatal overdoses among residents of our state more than quadrupled while the deaths connected with most other opioids stayed relatively stable."

Stefan Johansson, WDH director, said in the release:

"This drug is nothing short of frightening when used illegally. What increases the level of danger is that people using drugs can be unaware that a synthetic opioid has been added to a drug they have bought or been given to use." Johansson said. "They don’t know the fentanyl is there and the results are sometimes tragic...We also like to remind people who are misusing opioids and other drugs that the hope offered through recovery is possible for them."

Governor Mark Gordon has also spoken out against fentanyl and claimed that it is becoming a greater issue because of President Joe Biden's handling of the U.S. southern border.

According to WDH data in the release, annual deaths attributed to overdoses among Wyoming residents fluctuated over the years.

In 2021, 106 overdose deaths were recorded among Wyoming residents compared to 99 in 2020, 78 in 2019, 65 in 2018, 62 in 2017, 94 in 2016, 96 in 2015, 106 in 2014, 96 in 2013, and 99 in 2012.

There were around 214 hospitalizations or 9.2 per 100,000, that were caused by opioids as the primary reason in Wyoming hospitals between 2016 and 2019, with 63.6% of those unintentional and 92.1% of those from prescription drugs.

However, when it comes to emergency room visits, 86% of those are due to illicit opioids and amounted to 435 visits to the emergency room, or 18.8 per 100,000, though those are if opioids were involved at all and not if they were the primary cause.

The largest amount of opioid hospitalizations as the primary cause between 2016 and 2019 was in Carbon County at 24.7 per 100,000 followed by Fremont County at 15.1 and Natrona County at 13.5.

While fentanyl can lead to an overdose, it's important to know that touching it or inhaling it for a short period of time does not lead to an overdose.

According to a study by the American College of Medical Toxicology and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology in 2017, it would take 200 minutes of breathing in fentanyl or 14 minutes of it covering your entire hand to receive a dose of 100 micrograms.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration states that two milligrams of fentanyl, or 2000 micrograms, is needed for a fatal dose, though it can depend on someone's body, tolerance, and usage.

The WDH suggests people learn about health risks associated with opioid misuse, the importance of using medications only as prescribed, learning how to respond to an opioid overdose, and talking with a healthcare provider about access to Narcan.

Narcan can help to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and restore normal breathing in a person whose breathing has slowed or even stopped due to an opioid overdose.

More information about synthetic fentanyl, preventing opioid overdoses, and getting Narcan can be found on either the WDH or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

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