Fentanyl overdose leading cause of death for 18- to 45-year-olds in the US

Border, drugs, Mexico, Fentynal
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent weighs a package of Fentanyl at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on October 2, 2019, in San Ysidro, California. - Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a range of conditions, has been central to the American opioid crisis which began in the late 1990s. China was the first country to manufacture deadly illegal fentanyl for the U.S. market, but the problem surged when trafficking through Mexico began around 2005. |

Fentanyl became the top killer in American adults aged 18 to 45 between 2020 and 2021, with drug overdoses exceeding the number of COVID-19 deaths in the age group, according to an analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 79,000 people between the ages of 18 and 45 died of fentanyl overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021, according to Families Against Fentanyl, which analyzed the government data.

While 37,208 people in that age group died of fentanyl overdoses in 2020, the number rose to 41,587 in 2021.

The founder of the opioid awareness organization, James Rauh, who lost his son to an overdose, called it “a national emergency,” according to Fox News.

“America’s young adults — thousands of unsuspecting Americans — are being poisoned,” he said. “It is widely known that illicit fentanyl is driving the massive spike in drug-related deaths. A new approach to this catastrophe is needed.”

A fact sheet created by Families Against Fentanyl details that illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, or IMFs, are present in most street drugs. Most fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, is manufactured in chemical or pharmaceutical companies in China.

While legal fentanyl is prescribed to numb the effects of extreme pain, just two milligrams of fentanyl can kill a person. On the other hand, it would take 30 milligrams of heroin to cause a fatal overdose. 

In the first five months of this year, over 42,600 people died of fentanyl overdose — an increase of more than 1,000 fentanyl deaths per month compared to the same time period in 2020.

Overdose fatalities rose possibly due to prolonged and widespread lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last December, the CDC issued an emergency health advisory, saying “This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States.” In May 2020, the Well Being Trust, a mental health advocacy group, estimated a possible 75,000 additional “deaths of despair,” including suicide as well as drug and alcohol abuse, over the ensuing several years, due to the shutdown measures.

Families Against Fentanyl has launched a petition asking the U.S. government to designate illegal fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, which it reports “would enable the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Defense and other relevant federal agencies to better coordinate their efforts and immediately publish the necessary administrative directives to eliminate the threat posed by these deadly substances.”

As the southern border became more porous in 2021, federal authorities have seized a record amount of drugs. Data compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection reveals that authorities confiscated 11,201 pounds of fentanyl, up from 4,791 pounds the year prior. In a statement released last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it seized more than 20 million counterfeit pills containing fentanyl this year. 

President Joe Biden issued an executive order Wednesday, authorizing sanctions against any foreigner engaged in illicit drug trafficking or production.

“I find that international drug trafficking — including the illicit production, global sale, and widespread distribution of illegal drugs; the rise of extremely potent drugs such as fentanyl and other synthetic opioids; as well as the growing role of Internet-based drug sales — constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the order reads.

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