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Fentanyl Overdoses More Than Tripled Over Five Years in the United States

Published: May 8, 2023
A photo of Makayla Cox, who died of a fentanyl overdose at age 16, is displayed among other portraits on "The Faces of Fentanyl'' wall, which displays photos of Americans who died from a fentanyl overdose, at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, on July 13, 2022. (Image: AGNES BUN/AFP via Getty Images)

According to a new report, published by the National Center for Health Sciences, drug overdoses due to fentanyl more than tripled in the United States from 2016 to 2021, with the crisis worsening over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report indicates that the age-adjusted death rate rose to nearly 22 overdoses per 100,000 people in 2021, with the increase being most pronounced from 2019 to 2021, the height of the pandemic. 

Overdose deaths due to methamphetamine quadrupled and cocaine overdose deaths doubled over the same period.     

Fentanyl is a synthetic form of opioids, like morphine, that is a cheap and abundant drug that spread throughout American communities during pandemic imposed lockdowns. In 2021 alone, the drug was responsible for approximately 80,000 deaths in the United States.

According to Bloomberg, Anne Milgram, the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration chief, said that the drug is “everywhere” and characterized it as “the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.”

Overdoses due to fentanyl was high among every race, region and age group however the authors of the report said that the death rates were highest among men and people aged 25 to 44. Particularly hard hit populations include Alaskan Natives, American Indians and black people. 

Another study by the NCHS, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also found that overdose deaths due to oxycodone and heroin decreased over the pandemic, however the decrease in heroin deaths was statistically insignificant.


Communist China and Mexican drug cartels to blame

The report, which only looks at overdose deaths up to 2021, doesn’t include 2022 numbers. According to the CDC, in 2022 a staggering 110,236 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses, largely due to fentanyl.

The crisis is so bad that American life expectancy has plummeted to its lowest level in nearly two decades, CDC data shows. 

According to an unclassified United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence report, “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 to the United States.”

While Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities say they are taking steps to crack down on known fentanyl manufacturing areas, and promised to take other measures to stem the flow, these pledges have done little to stop the drug from entering the United States.  

A report, published by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC, in July 2020 argued that “China is highly unlikely to mount counternarcotics cooperation with the United States approaching the level of its collaboration with Australia on methamphetamines unless it starts experiencing its own synthetic opioid epidemic,” adding that the deterioration of U.S.-China relations may further undermine China’s willingness to diligently enforce fentanyl regulations.

While China provides the drugs, Mexican drug cartels are responsible for its distribution. 

According to a Dec. 30, 2022 press release by the DEA, fentanyl is being mass-produced at secret facilities in Mexico “with chemicals sourced largely from China.”

The administration believes that two Mexican drug cartels are primarily responsible for a large amount of the illicit fentanyl flowing into the U.S. via the southern border, the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

In early January this year, President Biden announced that since August of last year, “Customs and Border Patrol have seized more than 20,000 pounds of deadly fentanyl” at the southern border.

He promised to meet with Mexican president, López Obrador, during the second week of January to speak about a variety of issues including strengthening the southern border and climate change but failed to mention the fentanyl crisis explicitly instead only saying he would speak about “other issues.”Meanwhile the fentanyl crisis continues to rage across the continent, impacting every single state.