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Fentanyl surpasses heroin as leading drug found in fatal Connecticut overdoses

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In the second quarter of 2016, more people died of fentanyl-related overdoses than heroin-related ones, according to numbers released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Friday.

The difference — 139 versus 135 — is small, but it shows fentanyl-related deaths are increasing at an even faster rate than was projected after the first quarter of 2016.

A projected 446 people are now expected to die this year because of the use of fentanyl in some combination. That’s more than 100 more than OCME officials estimated would die based on the first three months of 2016.

Data show 188 people died of fentanyl-related overdoses in 2015.

Notably, cocaine-related deaths are on track to increase by about 33 percent, from 177 deaths in 2015 to a projected 236 in 2016.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill said that’s because many of the deceased thought they purchased cocaine but instead received fentanyl or a mixture containing fentanyl.

He said the same phenomenon, which he said has been described as “drug Russian roulette,” exists with heroin.

“One never knows what the packet or syringe contains and whether it may be ‘loaded’ with a fatal shot,” Gill wrote in an email.

In pure form, the color of fentanyl resembles that of heroin and cocaine.

In total, 444 people died of drug overdoses in the first six months of 2016, making for a projected 888 deaths by the end of the year.

That would represent a 22 percent increase from the 729 people who died due to overdoses in 2015.

l.boyle@theday.com

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