WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least 1,013 people died of overdoses in several U.S. cities from 2005 to 2007 after illegally injecting the highly potent painkiller fentanyl, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The fentanyl, at least some of which came from Mexico, was sold illegally by drug dealers on U.S. streets, sometimes mixed with cocaine and heroin, according to a report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Chicago area had the most deaths with 349, followed by Philadelphia with 269, the Detroit area with 230. Other deaths were reported in St. Louis, Missouri, and the states of Delaware and New Jersey.
Emergency medical personnel reported finding some victims with the needle still in their arms, not having completed the injection because the drug was so powerful, said retired CDC public health service officer Dr. Stephen Jones, who wrote the report.
The fentanyl caused perhaps hundreds of other deaths not reflected in the official tally of 1,013 deaths, Jones said in a telephone interview.
"I think this is an extraordinary episode of fatal drug overdoses. But it's got to be recognized as part of the bigger problem of the increasing numbers of drug overdose deaths in the United States."
The number of deaths from drug overdoses and other cases of unintentional drug poisonings jumped from 11,155 in 1999 to 22,448 in 2005, the CDC noted, with powerful painkilling drugs playing an important role.
The fentanyl used in Chicago and Detroit was believed to have come from an illicit production facility in Toluca, Mexico, that was shut down by authorities in May 2006, the CDC said. Continued...