The Fentanyl Crisis Continues To Devastate The United States

The Opioid crisis has been increasingly present in the United States for nearly 2 decades. Since 1999, more than 1 million people have lost their lives to a drug overdose. Year after year, a growing number of those overdoses have involved a Synthetic Opioid known as Fentanyl, which now accounts for nearly 90% of all Opioid-related overdoses and over 65% of all reported drug overdoses.

In the last year alone, drug overdoses have increased by over 15%, from 94,000 in 2020 to over 108,000 in 2021. Of those 108,000, over 80,000 involved Opioids and over 70,000 of those involving Opioids included Fentanyl.

With no clear signs of slowing down, America’s Fentanyl crisis is at an all-time high. Cities across the country, many of which have historically had low numbers of Opioid-related deaths, are now seeing alarming rates of overdoses. Entire states are being affected as well, with many rural states like West Virginia and Kentucky leading the nation in overdose death rates (81.4 and 49.2 per 100,000 respectively).

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Fentanyl-Related Overdoses Continue To Rise In 2022

Drug overdoses have been steadily increasing for over 20 years. Since 2014, however, the number of overdoses has exploded largely due to Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic Opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than Morphine.

“These past three years we have seen an increase of contamination of other illicit drugs with Fentanyl, be it Cocaine, be Methamphetamine, and more recently, illicit prescription drugs,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This has put a bigger population of drug users at risk of overdoses, she adds. “In many instances, these may be people that take just one pill, and they get that contaminated pill and they can die.”

What is even more concerning to many experts is the potential of overdoses among younger adults, adolescents, and even children. In 2020 alone, there were 6,129 Opioid overdoses among people under the age of 24, with the overwhelming majority involving Fentanyl.

Overdoses in this age group have become so common, in fact, that for the first time they are on they are rise. A recent study found that for the first time in over a decade, the number of teens who died from overdoses rose in 2020. Experts believe that Opioid overdoses among younger individuals, especially those involving Fentanyl, are more common because the drug is often “cut” or mixed into counterfeit prescription drugs like MDMA which are popular among younger people.

Reports of “candy-colored” or “rainbow” Fentanyl have surfaced in multiple states, which appear to be marketed toward a younger, more impressionable audience. Officials at Arizona’s Nogales Port of Entry reportedly seized over 15,000 rainbow-colored Fentanyl pills, following 250,000 similar multi-colored pills that were seized at the same port just 24 hours earlier. Similar reports of colorful Fentanyl pills have been reported in Oregon, California, and Washington, D.C.

Where Is Fentanyl Coming From?

In recent years, the amount of Fentanyl-contaminated drugs entering the country has skyrocketed. Most of the Fentanyl that enters the country is made in clandestine or illegal laboratories, oftentimes under the guise of brand-name medications like Adderall and Xanax. This means that some people may consume Fentanyl without their knowledge.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), as of 2019, China remains the primary source of Fentanyl and Fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations environment, as well as the main source for all Fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States. Other major countries of origin include Mexico and India, with even smaller amounts arriving from Canada’s black market.

From October 2021 to June 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has reportedly seized a total of nearly 11,000 pounds of Fentanyl from U.S. borders.

While recent polls show that most Americans believe the majority of Fentanyl is smuggled into the country by migrants, the reality is that these claims are extremely false and misleading. While it is true that many cartels will use migrants as a distraction, the overwhelming majority come through official ports of entry such as cargo ships or trucks.

“The probability [migrants] are going to carry some kind of illicit narcotic is probably close to zero,” says Victor Manjarrez, a retired CBP agent of over 20 years and director for the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas, El Paso.

“When you look at the chaos and clutter that occurs at a port of entry, just with the legitimate traffic – you know, trucks and personal vehicles – and so if you’re looking at a couple of pounds of Fentanyl hidden in that chaos – you know, if you’re the bad guy, you kind of like your odds,” he continued.

What’s Being Done To Combat The Fentanyl Crisis?

The Fentanyl crisis has progressed to such an extreme degree that immediate, meaningful action is needed.

“It’s absolutely devastating and heartbreaking that we continue to remain in this position,” says Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, an addiction policy advocacy group. “We are over 20 years in this overdose crisis and there’s no sign of any kind of slowing down of deaths. If anything, things have only seemed to have gotten more dire.”

Since 2007, the United States has been working with Mexico in a program known as the Merida Initiative. The program has provided Mexico with more than $3 billion in security and counternarcotics aid, both for police and judicial reforms. While the Merida Initiative has led to the capture of some top cartel leaders, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has staunchly criticized the agreement.

In 2021, both Mexico and the U.S. announced a new agreement to improve “health and security cooperation.” In a similar partnership, the U.S. had been working with Columbia starting in 2000, where it provided the Columbian government with over $10 billion in aid up until 2016 when the agreement ended.

It’s not just international efforts that have been made to combat the Fentanyl crisis. In April, the Biden administration announced plans to address the unprecedented number of Fentanyl overdoses across the country. The plans included increasing access to harm reduction methods like Naloxone, a powerful medication that reverses overdoses. However, experts agree that this is simply not enough to solve the ongoing Fentanyl crisis. Currently, there are only 2 above-board, legal harm reduction sites in the entire country, both of which are in New York City.

While the need for more legal, safe harm reduction sites continues to grow and gain support across the country, legislation continues to fall short. On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed cities to open supervised drug injection sites as a part of a pilot program to help decrease fatal overdoses.

It’s important to note, however, that while harm reduction has been proven to reduce fatal overdoses and in some instances steer individuals toward quitting, it is not a substitution for treatment. With that said, the two can work well together when implemented correctly.

Getting Help Before It’s Too Late

Getting help for an addiction to Opioids or other illicit drugs can seem like an impossible, constant uphill battle. Along with abundantly underfunded harm reduction programs, the stigma that surrounds drug addiction can be enough to keep those who need help from seeking it out.

As the Fentanyl crisis continues to rage forward, experts warn that an increasing number of illicit drugs will be contaminated with Fentanyl, which often goes unnoticed by those who consume them. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, the time to get help is now. To get help today, contact a treatment provider who can help you start your journey toward recovery.

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Zachary Pottle

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  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University and has over three years of journalistic experience. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

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