A growing number of fake prescription pills containing the potentially deadly fentanyl are helping to push overdose death rates to record levels in the U.S., including some now made in rainbow colors designed to look like candy, federal officials said Tuesday.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents are working to crack down on violent drug cartels in Mexico believed to be trafficking drugs into the U.S., Attorney General Merrick Garland said. Between May and September, the DEA and local police across the country seized more than 10 million fentanyl pills and hundreds of pounds of the powder, he said.
Super powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl are back record number of overdose deaths in the US, law enforcement agencies nationwide are struggling to combat the drug boom in urban and rural communities. The global coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed America’s opioid epidemic, but when overdose deaths topped 100,000 during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, it surged back into the public consciousness.
“I read too many reports of too many cases, including too many young people who ended up dying after taking just one fentanyl pill, often disguised as something else,” Garland said.
First reported in February, rainbow pills have now been seized in 21 states, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. While fentanyl is still most often disguised as oxycodone or another prescription drug, rainbow pills are on the rise.
“We think it’s being marketed to young people,” Milgram said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also sounded the alarm this weekend about the drug’s rise in New York and Long Island as he pushed for new funding to fight its spread.
Two Mexican drug cartels are responsible for the majority of fentanyl in the US, federal authorities said. The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel buy precursor chemicals from China and then traffic them to the US, where they are sometimes sold on social media platforms.
“These cartels act with calculated, deliberate treachery to bring fentanyl into the United States and get people to buy it through counterfeit pills, hiding it in other drugs, any means they can to drive addiction and make money . “Milgram he told CBS Mornings this month.
The Department of Justice considers the Jalisco cartel to be “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.” The cartel leader, Nemesio Oseguera, “El Mencho,” are among the most wanted by Mexican and American authorities.
Over the past four months, authorities have investigated nearly 400 cases, 51 of which are related to overdoses and 35 directly linked to the two cartels. In addition to being pressed into counterfeit pills, fentanyl powder is also transferred into other drugs such as cocaine and heroin, Milgram said.
“Our top operational priority has been and will continue to be to defeat these two cartels,” he said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times more powerful than heroin, and even a small amount can be fatal. Counterfeit prescription pills are especially dangerous because it’s hard to tell how strong they are.
About two-thirds of overdose deaths in the US have been linked to fentanyl or other powerful, illegally manufactured synthetic opioids.
Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of business research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said that containing synthetics with law enforcement is a challenge because the drug can be made in labs anywhere rather than grown in fields like cocaine or heroin. – and because it is so potent and is traded in smaller quantities.
“How on earth are law enforcement supposed to find a few metric tons in an economy that trades megatons of raw materials?” Caulkins asked.
Caulkins said the best ways to deal with the fentanyl crisis are to fund treatment and increase the availability of naloxone, an overdose reversal drug — but he added that using arrests to reduce supply may be worth it. let’s try.