A 10-year-old Florida boy's death on June 23 is being blamed on the opiate painkiller fentanyl.
Preliminary toxicology tests show Alton Banks had fentanyl in his system when he collapsed and died at his home on June 23, reports the Miami Herald.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration offers the following summary of the drug:
Fentanyl and fentanyl related compounds such as carfentanil and acetyl fentanyl are synthetic opioids. Drugs in this group have varying but often very high levels of potency. In recent years they have become more widely available in the United States and grown as a threat to public safety. It only takes a very small amount of fentanyl or its derivatives -- which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin or mucus membranes (such as being inhaled through the nose or mouth) -- to result in severe adverse reactions. As a consequence, not only are users exposed to danger, but so are others who encounter them including the general public, first responders, and law enforcement.
The DEA adds that only 2 milligrams of fentanyl is "a lethal dose in most people."
Investigators of Banks' death said that there was no evidence that he came in contact with the drug at home; they suspect he was exposed to it at a public swimming pool or on his walk home in Miami's Overtown neighborhood, which has been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic that has been sweeping the nation.
Police said they may need the help of the public to close the case on exactly what happened to Banks.
“We’re anxiously hoping that someone comes forward to help us solve this horrific death," stated Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. has been experiencing a significant spike in overdose deaths related to opioids for most of the 21st century. Data from 2014 showed a dramatic increase in deaths related to heroin and to synthetic opioids similar to fentanyl.
Over 165,000 deaths have been attributed to such overdoses — with over 33,000 people dying in 2015 — and the rate of overdose deaths is approximately four times as high as it was in 1999. According to The New York Times, 2015 also saw the first time heroin-related deaths were more common than gun homicides in the U.S.
Young victims like Banks, though, are still relatively rare. According to the CDC, 2015 saw 51 children under 5 years old die from opiods -- however, that number also represents an increase from 20th-century statistics.