Local drug experts and enforcers are calling for change, as America’s drug epidemic has reportedly become the deadliest it has ever been, topping 100,000 deaths in one year for the first time, according to new federal data.
From April 2020 to April 2021, 100,306 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. — once again eclipsing the record that’d just been set that year with a 28.5-percent increase from 2020 and nearly double over the past five years—according to provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Opioids continue to be the driving cause of drug overdose deaths, with synthetic opioids, which consist primarily of fentanyl, accounting for nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of all drug overdose deaths, up 49 percent from the year before, per CDC data.
Studies suggest that fentanyl overdoses have become the leading cause of death for ages 18-45 in 2021, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Five years ago, at a time when there were just 30,000 overdoses a year, officials were trying to get a handle on the opioid crisis. Soon, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration created a database for doctors who could see which patients had been going doctor to doctor in search of more drugs.
That helped to slightly quell the demand for opioids. That’s when fentanyl came into the picture, as it became cheaper and easier to acquire than natural opiates, and soon, pills began being cut with fentanyl.
A stronger and faster-acting drug than natural opiates, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, made the effects even more deadly.
“We use opiates as pain relievers,” said Detective Jeff Cacic of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s Juvenile Intervention Team, or J-Team. “Fentanyl is, on average, 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl is pretty scary because 0.02 milligrams of fentanyl is actually considered a lethal dose.”
Cacic compared it to a sugar packet at a diner, which typically is 1 gram, “so if you’ve cut that up into 50 pieces, that’s what a lethal amount is,” he said. “Fentanyl is also so powerful that people that get Narcan-ed sometimes need three to four doses before we can bring them back,” Cacic added.
The problem has only gotten worse, with nearly all drugs sold on the internet — from Xanax to meth to cocaine to even marijuana — being cut with fentanyl.