The opioid crisis has plagued the United States since the late 1990s, when prescription narcotics were commonly overprescribed. In the last 20 years, there has been a shift to the opioid crisis, with the drugs involved especially after around 2010. Around that time, heroin became more easily available, which resulted in a surge of heroin-related deaths. Shortly after this, the use of synthetic opioids, likely driven by illicit fentanyl, began to rise to record levels in 2021.
Considered the deadliest drug in the United States, fentanyl is often found in combination with other illicit drugs, including amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine. It is becoming more common to find fentanyl in illicit pills disguised to look like Xanax, hydrocodone, or even the unlikely Adderall. An illicit user on the street may be in search of one thing and end up receiving fentanyl, which they never intended to take but which looks like the pill they intended to buy.
Narcan, a common overdose-reversing drug, has become nine times more prescribed than it was five years ago, with about 1.2 million doses dispensed by retail pharmacies in 2021, according to the American Medical Association. Often times, with the potency and fast effects of fentanyl, more than one dose of Narcan is required to keep an overdose victim alive. It's also common for the surviving victim to be agitated and possibly combative as they initially recover from the overdose.
Scott Oulton, deputy assistant administrator of the DEA’s Office of Forensic Sciences, wants to be clear: "The problem isn’t with pills prescribed by your doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy—it’s the pills on the illicit market."
Black marketing and dealing drugs have become easy for those wanting to take the risks for the perceived gains seen by many. Illegal darknet sites like the infamous Silk Road can provide bulk quantities of ready-made pills or powders to press into tablets or fill capsules for a drug dealer. Both the powder and pills are at best questionable as to their pharmacological contents.
Drug dealers and illicit users alike purchase from these sources, expecting and hoping to receive the illicit drug they wanted. Often times, this is not the case, as the pills look legitimate to an untrained person. These pills flow across our borders and through our shipping industry on a daily basis. Large seizures of pounds of fentanyl happen regularly everywhere, not just on the borders, as we saw in a recent Plainsville, Ohio, seizure.
The opioid crisis continues to mount like a cresting tsunami, poised to decimate the United States further, with fentanyl at the forefront of the illicit drug deluge.
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