The new killer: Fentanyl like heroin but worse

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A synthetic painkiller has become the biggest cause of overdose deaths in some parts of the country, and it’s making Utah’s opioid epidemic worse.

It’s called Fentanyl, a drug more potent than morphine that is intended to help chronic pain patients who have developed a tolerance for other opioids.

Dr. Paula Cook says Fentanyl has a place when prescribed responsibly.

“There are lots of people who take Fentanyl appropriately, and that's fine, they're being monitored by responsible providers,” Cook said.

Cook is an addiction treatment doctor at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. She spoke with Fox 13 from a remote clinic in Southeastern Utah, where she travels to treat local patients and help build addiction recovery programs.

She has seen Fentanyl’s impact, both on patients who take it seeking a stronger effect and from patients who are exposed to it when they think they are buying heroin or another opioid.

“Fentanyl is not only dangerous in and of itself, but it's also increasing the potency and the effects of heroin, and it's putting at-risk people for overdosing and dying, so it's a huge issue,” Cook said.

The U.S. House of Representatives is approaching the issue with a series of 18 bills, the first of which have passed with overwhelming majorities.

Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah is co-sponsoring 13 of the measures. He said three people helped him see that the problem can impact anyone.

“One of them was a young mother who got addicted after the birth of her child," Stewart said. "Two of them were athletes who had become addicted after injuries they had playing sports."

For Cook, the key is approaching the problem as a medical issue, and not something to be ashamed of.

“It's just like any other health condition, just like diabetes or hypertension," she said. "Go and get help.”