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Despite doctors cutting prescriptions, opioid epidemic cuts deep in Pennsylvania

The deadly "fourth wave" of the opioid epidemic remains a threat to many Pennsylvanians, as fentanyl ravages the state and the nation.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Despite increased awareness and access to treatment, the opioid epidemic is raging in Pennsylvania and nationwide, showing no signs of slowing down.

"The opioid crisis is an ongoing silent killer in Pennsylvania and the country," said Dr. Asif Ilyas, the president of the Rothman Opioid Foundation and a professor at Thomas Jefferson University. "We often talk about the opioid crisis in waves, and the fourth wave is being considered the fentanyl wave."

Knowing the risk of addiction, Ilyas said doctors are giving fewer opioids, prescribing 30% to 40% less, according to Rothman's research. Still, a deadly trend persists.

"We're not necessarily seeing a decrease in opioid related deaths, and that's really because now what's driving deaths from opioids is not prescription opioids, but it's really fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that can be made illegally," Ilyas said. "Now it's getting even worse with xylazine, or tranq, lacing the fentanyl, making it even more potent."

Ilyas said tranq is a Narcan-resistant drug that can cause severe tissue damage, sometimes resulting in amputations. The drug is ravaging Philadelphia, but is also behind overdose deaths in York County.

Ilyas said it's on the move.

"We assume it's an inevitability that it's going to be statewide and nationwide," Ilyas added.

Ilyas said stopping the deadly trends begins with law enforcement cracking down on the trade of illegal drugs, specifically fentanyl. He said healthcare systems are in desperate need of more counselors and nurses to provide long-term care to patients.

"This requires sustained therapy to get them to a place where they can get past their addiction, because very quickly they can fall back into that," Ilyas said.

Earlier this week, healthcare providers met with state lawmakers to ask for help, hoping to remove regulations they say are keeping them from seeing more opioid patients.

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