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Drug overdose deaths now higher in rural areas than large metros; rise in opiate use to blame

Death rates from drug overdoses in rural areas have surpassed those in large metropolitan areas, reversing a historical trend, Jeanne Whalen reports for The Wall Street Journal.

The main reason: the soaring rural opioid epidemic, led by an increased use of fentanyl, a cheap and easy-to-produce and easily available drug that is often mixed with heroin. Whalen writes, “Nationwide, 13,882 drug seizures tested positive for fentanyl in 2015, more than double the 2014 number, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.”

Rise in fatal drug overdoses per 100,000 people (WSJ graphic)
wsj drugs

Opiate use has risen dramatically in Appalachia and the Midwest and Northeast, Whalen reports. In Northern Minnesota, for example, “police working for a tri-county task force have intercepted 64.5 grams of fentanyl so far in the third quarter, enough of the deadly narcotic to kill 32,000 people, up from 12 grams in the second quarter.”

“In some cases U.S. dealers or addicts are ordering fentanyl or chemically similar drugs online, directly from suppliers in China, which the DEA says produces much of the world’s synthetic opioid supply,” Whalen writes.

“The agency says a growing number of local dealers have bought pill presses to turn powdered fentanyl into counterfeit painkillers. Chinese suppliers are also sending large quantities of fentanyl or its chemical ingredients to Mexico, where cartels mix the drug into the heroin supply and smuggle it to U.S. cities, says the DEA.”

“The big-city dealers who bring fentanyl-laced heroin to the upper Midwest dip in and out of town, and often recruit local addicts to help them hide or sell drugs, making them tougher to catch, police say,” Whalen writes.

(WSJ graphic: Changes in drug overdose deaths)

wsj drugs3

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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