The Department of Justice is issuing addictions epidemic grant money right as a new synthetic opioid has been identified.
The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) recently announced it would be issuing grant money totaling more than $300 million to help fight against the nation’s growing addiction crisis, which has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) are distributing millions in grants aimed at tackling the crisis. Moreover, OJP is awarding $34 million to help communities respond to public safety and public health emergencies, particularly those associated with the addiction epidemic.
“Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation is experiencing a precipitous rise in opioid and stimulant misuse and overdoses,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department is committed to supporting programs aimed at addressing the substance use crisis that is devastating communities across the nation.”
Recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) illustrates, “There were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.”
Federal agencies recently announced, too, that not only if there a rise in fentanyl being diverted for illicit use, but a new synthetic opioid has arrived on the streets – nitazenes. This class of opioids was found in syringes examined by scientists nationwide, and forensic experts have found that the syringes used in some overdoses contained the drug. Nitazenes are up to “20 times more powerful than fentanyl.” Fentanyl itself is “50 times more powerful than heroin and 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine.”
“Every time a cheaper, more potent drug is introduced into the illegal drug market, the number of overdose deaths increases,” said Dr. Rebecca Donald, assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee. She added, “Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, overtook heroin, and in the past year our country saw more opioid overdose deaths than ever before.”
Dr. Scott Krakower, attending psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York explained, “General lack of awareness of [nitazenes] may result in unforeseen deaths, especially when combined with other agents such as benzodiazepines and fentanyl.”
Alex Krotulski, PhD, associate director at The Center for Forensic Science Research & Education, added, “Nitazenes are the most popular subclass of new synthetic opioids…There are many factors that play into the increase in opioid overdoses. However, it’s not as easy to always understand the extent of a new opioid’s impact.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon for OJP said of the grant money being issued by the DOJ, “The substance use crisis in American society has been a persistent and deadly problem for decades, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids have tightened the grip drugs have on our society. The Biden-Harris Administration is working diligently to address these problems by committing unprecedented levels of funding toward research, substance use treatment and mental health services, along with investments in enforcement, response and evidence-based treatment.”
OIP offers grant money, training, technical assistance and other resources to help prevent crime, advance racial justice, and assist victims of crises.