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Scientists join the fray in fight against US opioid epidemic

Chemists and engineers are turning their attention to trying to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the opioid epidemic ravaging the US, driven by an unprecedented surge in deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opiates.

Overall, opioid-related deaths in the US spiked from approximately 18,500 in 2007 to more than 47,000 a decade later, according to the US National Institutes of Health. Overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids in the country rose more than 45% between 2016 and 2017, the country’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates. A new CDC report identifies fentanyl as the deadliest drug in the country, causing more than 18,300 deaths in 2016.

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are very long-lasting compared with traditional narcotics of abuse such as morphine and heroine. Doses of the current antidotes have not always been potent enough to fully counter the effects of fentanyl, according to Saadyah Averick from the Allegheny Health Network Research Institute in Pennsylvania. He discussed his work to develop single-dose, longer-lasting opioid antidotes using polymer nanoparticles at the American Chemical Society’s spring meeting in Orlando, Florida on 1 April.

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