As fentanyl continues to flood the U.S., the overdose rate continues to rise.
Fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid up to 1000 stronger than morphine, along with other lab-generated synthetic opioids, are now causing a deadly overdose epidemic in the U.S. Last year, overdoses from all drugs claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the fatalities thus far in 2022 have remained around the same level. The government tallied more overdose deaths in 2021 than it did in the two-decade span ranging from 1979 through 1998, data shows, indicating the fentanyl problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
The fentanyl problem is causing so many deaths, experts believe, not only because it’s extremely powerful but because it is commonly laced with other illicit drugs, including meth, cocaine, and heroin, without the buyer’s knowledge. The drug continues to flood the nation, crossing the border from Mexico with components to create it traveling overseas from China. More specifically, fentanyl is being made in Mexico and the chemicals required to manufacture it are being shipped from China. It’s a problem that continues to worsen without any long-term effective solutions identified to date.
Some of the ideas that legislators, advocates and others are proposing to tackle the crisis include tightening border control efforts between the U.S. and Mexico, undertaking awareness efforts to reduce overall drug demand, and surveilling more closely packages that are entering the country from overseas. The crisis continues to be so bad that parents had voiced concerns it would show up laced in with their children’s Halloween candy – although Halloween has historically been met with candy scares such as the razor blade urban legend.
In some areas of the U.S., including the New England area, the synthetic has surpassed the heroin supply on the streets. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has warned that the drug is being sold in multicolored pills and powders (called “rainbow fentanyl) and it’s being marketed on social media to teens and young adults.
Relying heavily on catching the fentanyl problem at the border simply isn’t enough, many experts say. More needs to be done to reduce the flood of fentanyl into the U.S. and the ever-increasing overdose rate.
“I don’t think that reducing the supply is going to be the answer because it’s so easy to mail,” said Adam Wandt, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
One California father, Matt Capelouto, who lost his 20-year-old daughter Alexandra to an overdose is pushing for prosecutors to file murder charges against suppliers. Alexandra died from half a pill she bought from a dealer she found on social media in 2019.
“She was told it was oxycodone,” Capelouto said, “but it contained fentanyl. It’s not that arresting and convicting and putting these guys behind bars doesn’t work. The fact is, we don’t do it enough to make a difference.”
As far as other effective solutions, the U.S. is a long way off from eliminating the crisis and reducing fatalities. As long as fentanyl is cheap to manufacture, dealers are going to add it to other concoctions to minimize overhead. They aren’t going to care about the end result so long as they have money in their pockets.
Susan Ousterman, whose son Tyler Cordiero died at the age of 24 in 2020, summed it up best by saying, “Fentanyl is everywhere. You don’t know what’s in an unregulated drug supply. You don’t know what you’re taking. You’re always taking the chance of dying every time.”