Fentanyl Found in Nearly All Overdose Deaths Analyzed by CORI


Scientists in the Camden Opioid Research Initiative analyzed samples from dozens of overdose deaths and found that the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was nearly universal.

Scientists from the Camden Opioid Research Initiative analyzed the toxicology findings from dozens of people who died from opioid overdoses and their findings were published this week in PLOS ONE.

Titled “Postmortem toxicology findings from the Camden Opioid Research Initiative,” their article showed the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl was present in nearly all of the studied subjects, and that the overdose-reversal drug naloxone was detected in about one-fifth of the samples collected. Stimulants, including caffeine and nicotine, were found in 100 percent of those studied and sedatives, including the tranquilizer xylazine, were detected in just about half. 

Importantly, only seven percent of the samples collected had evidence of methadone or buprenorphine, medications commonly used to treat opioid use disorder. This low rate of evidence for proven medication-assisted treatment among these decedents supports the calls to increase access and outreach to administer these potentially life-saving treatments.

“The opioid use disorder epidemic in the United States is ongoing and, as this toxicology data shows, multi-faceted,” said Dara Kusic, PhD, a Bioinformatics Research Scientist at Coriell and lead author of the publication. “In order to respond fully to this crisis, it’s critical to acknowledge the prevalence of co-occurring substance use within opioid use disorder and to factor that into intervention strategies and treatments. The study further shows how commonly the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl is implicated in opioid-related deaths.”

Samples from 42 people who died of opioid toxicity were analyzed in this research. These samples were collected by the medical examiner’s office which oversees Camden and Gloucester counties in New Jersey and were consented for donation for research purposes by the donors’ next-of-kin.

Funded by the State of New Jersey, the Camden Opioid Research Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, Cooper University Health Care, and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University to investigate the genetic and non-genetic risk factors for opioid use disorder. It was launched by these three Camden institutions in 2018, and takes a multi-pronged approach to studying opioid use disorder and its risk factors.

Last year, CORI scientists published an article in Pharmaceutics detailing that a great majority of patients receiving treatment for chronic pain are willing to participate in genetic analysis to help doctors determine the optimal plans to treat their pain.

About the Coriell Institute for Medical Research

The Coriell Institute for Medical Research is a globally-recognized leader in biobanking and biomedical research. Coriell is home to one of the world's most important biobanks which distributes biological samples and offers research and biobanking services to scientists around the world. Coriell is the trusted steward of world-renowned collections for the National Institutes of Health, disease foundations and commercial clients. Also a leader in genomic and epigenomic research, Coriell is uncovering the ways our genetic makeup affects our health, especially with regard to cancer, aging, and personalized medicine. Coriell leads or participates in several research partnerships, including the Camden Cancer Research Center and the Camden Opioid Research Initiative. For more information, visit www.coriell.org, like Coriell on Facebook, or follow @Coriell_Science on Twitter.

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