One of the more recent prescription drugs being abused illicitly is Fentanyl. This compound induces pharmacological effects and abuse liability comparable to other prescription opioids and heroin. A surge in fentanyl-related fatalities has been periodically reported throughout the USA. In an article published in the Special Issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology (JAT) by a team lead by Prof. B. A. Goldberger ((2016) 40:588–594), UCT’s flagship sorbent Clean Screen® DAU was employed to extract and analyze post mortem blood samples for fentanyl.
The Forensic Toxicology Laboratory at the University of Florida observed a significant increase in fentanyl-related deaths starting in mid-2014. The specimens were analyzed for fentanyl by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry; the limit of detection (LOD) was 0.62 ng/mL and the limit of quantification (LOQ) was 2.5 ng/mL. During the 7-month period, the laboratory tested 143 postmortem cases for fentanyl. It was observed that 50% had quantifiable fentanyl in postmortem blood. Fentanyl concentrations ranged from 2.5 to 68 ng/mL (n = 66; median: 9.8 ng/mL); Concurrent detection of 6-acetylmorphine, morphine and cocaine along with other opioids and benzodiazepines was common. Of the 59 deaths from one area, the cause of death was accidental drug intoxication with fentanyl as a sole or contributing factor for 57 cases (two non-drug intoxication deaths). Most of the decedents had no prescription for fentanyl. Considering fentanyl’s high potency and abuse liability, the recent rise in fentanyl-related deaths is a serious public health concern and signifies the urgent need to establish prevention and treatment efforts.