fentanyl overdose deaths claiming thousands of American lives; What is behind the rise?

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Nearly a million people have died from drug overdose deaths in the past two decades, but a growing majority of those deaths in recent years have been linked to dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. First synthesized by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen as an analgesic in 1960, proved to be a useful drug to help patients with traumatic injuries.

The DEA seized 32,000 fake pills made to look like legitimate prescription pills on July 8 and 9 in Omaha, Nebraska.
(Drug Enforcement Administration)

But it wasn’t until the last decade or so that the drug hit the black market and really began to destroy lives and communities in the US.

the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The CDC estimates that more than 108,000 people in the US died from drug overdoses between February 2021 and February 2022. Of those, more than 70% involved fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

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One of the main drivers of the proliferation of fentanyl in recent years is cheaper production methods. While other plant derivatives drugs like heroin and cocaine they need to be grown and cultivated, synthetic drugs like fentanyl are cheaper, both for producers and consumers.

“The production of (heroin) is expensive and time-consuming because you have to use real poppy from the poppy fields. As fentanyl is a synthetic drug, you eliminate that process and it’s much more lucrative,” said a police officer. Los Angeles and drug recognition expert told Fox News Digital. “A legitimate 40-milligram OxyContin pill will cost about $40. You can get these illicit pills, like M-30, for $10 or $15 each.”

The expert asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The suspects arrested in connection with fentanyl trafficking were linked to a transnational criminal organization known for drug smuggling, authorities said.

The suspects arrested in connection with fentanyl trafficking were linked to a transnational criminal organization known for drug smuggling, authorities said.
(Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office)

The officer, who has been on the force for about two decades, has seen the drug affect rich and poor.

“I feel that fentanyl touches everyone. Because you have your different ways,” the officer said. “There are people who just use it in powder form, smoke it in tin foil, your transients on Skid Row. And then you have your big-name celebrities like (rapper) Mac Miller or (MLB player) Tyler Scaggs, who have more than enough money to buy whatever drugs they want, but are… unknowingly overdosing on fentanyl.”

This photo shows the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.

This photo shows the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.
(Drug Enforcement Administration)

Investigative journalist and author Ben Westhoff, who described the rise of the fentanyl epidemic in his book, “Fentanyl, Inc.,“He said it wasn’t until traffickers really realized they could make a lot more money cutting other drugs with fentanyl that it became kind of a supply-driven phenomenon.”

“No one saw it coming. Part of it was because production methods were simplified. A new production method was discovered,” Westhoff said.

Westhoff traces the modern crisis back to 2005, when US lawmakers cracked down on methamphetamine in the US. The US Senate banned the over-the-counter sale of commonly used cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine. to manufacture methamphetamine.

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Subsequently, many of the methamphetamine laboratories scattered throughout the United States moved to Mexico. These labs, Westhoff said, became “super labs” receiving precursor ingredients directly from China, a relationship that continues today.

Now, chemicals used to make fentanyl they are sold almost entirely to Mexican drug cartels from China. The cartels then package the fentanyl into other drugs like Xanax and Adderrall, and ship them to the US to sell on the black market. As a result, most Americans who die from fentanyl-related overdoses don’t even know they’re taking it.

One of those many victims was Thomas Olrik Jr., who died of a fentanyl-related overdose at the age of 28. His mother, Mary Pratt-Weiss, told Fox News Digital that her son had struggled with addiction in the past, but he was starting to get his life back on track and enrolled in a rehab program.

“He started sharing and leading Heroin Anonymous meetings. He was helping a lot of people get sober. He really was an icon in the community. Everybody knew him, wherever he went. He always lit up a room,” Pratt-Weiss said. .

Olrik was also a talented artist and was doing well financially, selling his artwork at festivals.

“I was doing these huge murals while the bands would be playing. And people watched him paint,” Pratt-Weiss said.

However, things took their toll with the onslaught of the covid-19 pandemic, and Olrik, who was prone to anxiety and panic attacks, took a turn for the worse. He died of an overdose on July 19, 2021. Olrik’s autopsy report revealed that he had Klonopin, a highly addictive drug used to treat panic attacks, and fentanyl in his system.

“The fact that Klonopin and fentanyl were in his system tells me he was stressed and probably just wanted something to calm him down,” Pratt-Weiss said. “But I highly doubt he would have taken enough for OD if he knew what was in it.”

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Olrik’s story could have happened to anyone. That’s why Pratt-Weiss, who is now on a mission to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, says the drug does not recognize race, class or gender.

“Now I have a friend whose daughter is addicted to fentanyl, and she’s literally been through hell trying to get her into a rehab facility,” Pratt-Weiss said. “My neighbor behind me who just bought the house just lost a twin daughter to fentanyl in October of last year.”

Even so, it is highly unlikely that the US will be able to stop fentanyl completely to enter the country. All sources who spoke to Fox News Digital about the issue said that not enough resources are being devoted to the problem. In some cases, local authorities are even backing down in terms of funding.

“I definitely think we’re falling short. We need to treat it like a COVID, hands-on situation,” Westhoff said.

Despite the lack of resources, both Westhoff and Pratt-Weiss agreed that educating the public can go a long way toward combating this problem.

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“Education is key. People need to talk to their kids. They need to tell them not to try anything. tie,” Pratt-Weiss said. “Everyone, sooner or later, will have someone they know that has been affected. I thought it’s super important right now for people to be educated.”

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