CDC warns about overdose risk, deaths with new designer drug acetyl fentanyl

by Jim Orr

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning about the dangers of a new designer drug derived from the potent painkiller drug fentanyl. Known as acetyl fentanyl, this drug has already been linked to dozens of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and other states, despite the fact that officials were unaware of any overdose cases involving acetyl fentanyl before March 2013.

Acetyl fentanyl is a minor impurity of the prescription fentanyl that is used to treat cancer patients and other individuals with severe chronic pain. Health officials say that the drug is extremely powerful, about five times more potent than heroin. Because of this, even a small dosing error when using acetyl fentanyl can result in a fatal overdose.

Public health officials first became aware that drug users were abusing acetyl fentanyl in March 2013, when health officials in Rhode Island noticed a high number of drug overdose deaths in the state. A test performed on the victims (known as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA) found that 10 of the victims had died of a fentanyl overdose. However, another test—known as a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS)—failed to detect fentanyl. Subsequent testing revealed that the victims had died from an overdose of acetyl fentanyl.

In addition to the 14 acetyl fentanyl overdose deaths recorded so far this year by Rhode Island health officials, authorities in Pennsylvania have identified at least 50 fatal overdoses caused by acetyl fentanyl. A Rhode Island man has already been charged with distributing the acetyl fentanyl that caused the fatal overdoses in that state.

The CDC has advised hospitals to consider increasing their supply of naloxone—a drug which blocks the depressive effects of heroin, morphine, fentanyl, and other opioids. The agency advised that “because of the increased potency of acetyl fentanyl, larger doses of naloxone might be needed to achieve reversal” for patients who are brought to hospitals after an overdose.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson and fentanyl cases

The recent acetyl fentanyl deaths represent a fraction of the total number of fentanyl overdose deaths that occur in the U.S. each year. Many of these cases involve patients who were improperly prescribed fentanyl by a doctor, such as patients who are not opioid tolerant or who may be taking the drug for post-surgical pain or short term pain. In other cases, a fentanyl overdose can occur because of an improperly manufactured fentanyl patch that leaks onto the skin causing overdose or death from fentanyl toxicity. Patients and their families who have been affected by a fentanyl overdose may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the doctor or hospital who prescribed the drug, or the company that manufactured the pain patch or other fentanyl product that was used.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson has successfully handled more cases involving the fentanyl patch than all other law firms in the country combined. Our lawyers have amassed years of knowledge and expertise about fentanyl cases and will put this knowledge to work to ensure that your legal rights are protected.

Our law firm is AV-rated, the highest rating possible from the leading law firm rating service in the country, Martindale-Hubble. In addition, our three partners—Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson—each have been named by their fellow attorneys in the state of Texas as “Super Lawyers” for several years running.*

To learn more about filing a fentanyl lawsuit, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free legal consultation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by completing the free case evaluation form located on this page.


Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2013.