Fentanyl overdose deaths that have killed thousands of Americans; What is behind the rise?

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Over the past two decades, nearly one million people have died from drug overdoses, but in recent years most of those deaths have involved dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. First synthesized by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen in 1960 as a pain reliever, it has proven to be a useful drug to help patients with traumatic injuries.

The DEA seized 32,000 counterfeit pills made to look like legitimate prescription pills in Omaha, Neb., on July 8 and 9.
(Department of Combating Illegal Drug Trafficking)

However, it was only in the last decade or so that drugs entered the black market and began to truly destroy lives and communities in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between February 2021 and February 2022, more than 108,000 people will die of drug overdoses in the United States. More than 70% of these involve fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.


One of the main reasons for the spread of fentanyl in recent years is the cheap production methods. While other plant-derived drugs like heroin and cocaine need to be grown and cultivated, synthetic drugs like fentanyl are cheaper for both producers and consumers.

“(Heroin) is expensive and time-consuming to produce because you have to use opium from the poppy field. Because fentanyl is a synthetic drug, you eliminate that process and it’s much more profitable,” Los Angeles Police Officer and Narcotics Expert Fox News Digital “A legitimate 40-milligram pill of OxyContin costs around $40. You can get illegal pills like M-30 for $10 or $15 each.”

The expert asked not to be named because the expert is not authorized to speak to the media.

Authorities say the suspects arrested for allegedly smuggling fentanyl were linked to a transnational drug-trafficking organization.

Authorities say the suspects arrested for allegedly smuggling fentanyl were linked to a transnational drug-trafficking organization.
(Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office)

The officer, who has been on the force for two decades, has seen the effects of drugs on the rich and the poor alike.

“I feel like fentanyl hits everybody. Because you have different forms,” ​​the officer said. “You’ve got people who are using it in powder form — they’re smoking it out of foil — your crosswalks on Skid Row. And then you’ve got famous people like (rapper) Mac Miller or (MLB player) Tyler. Skaggs, they’re good enough to buy any drug they want. have money, but they’re … overdosing on fentanyl without knowing it.”

This photo shows the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.

This photo shows the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.
(Department of Combating Illegal Drug Trafficking)

Investigative journalist and author Ben Westhoff wrote his “Fentanyl, Inc.” , which chronicles the rise of the fentanyl epidemic, only after dealers really realized that they could make so much money by cutting fentanyl and other drugs that it became a form of supply.”

“No one saw this coming. On the one hand, production methods became simpler. A new production method was discovered,” Westhoff said.

Westhoff traces the modern crisis back to 2005, when US lawmakers cracked down on methamphetamine in the US. The US Senate has banned over-the-counter cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, which is commonly used to make methamphetamine.


Later, many of the meth labs scattered across the United States moved to Mexico. These labs, according to Westhoff, became “super labs” that sourced precursor ingredients directly from China, a relationship that continues today.

The chemicals used to make fentanyl are now sold almost entirely from China to Mexican drug cartels. The cartels then package the fentanyl with other drugs like Xanax and Adderall and ship it to the US for sale on the black market. So, most Americans who die from fentanyl-related overdoses don’t know they’re taking it.

One of the many victims was Thomas Olrick Jr., who died at age 28 of a fentanyl overdose. His mother, Mary Pratt-Weiss, told Fox News Digital that her son had struggled with addiction in the past, but he started to get sick. restored his life and enrolled in a rehabilitation program.

“He started sharing and leading Heroin Anonymous meetings. He was helping a lot of people get sober. He was really a community icon. Everyone knew him, wherever he went. He always lit up a room,” Pratt-Weiss said. .

Olrik was also a talented artist and was doing well financially, selling his work at festivals.

“He would paint these huge murals while the bands were playing. People would watch him paint,” Pratt-Weiss said.

But with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation took a turn for the worse, and Olrik, prone to anxiety and panic attacks, took a turn for the worse. He died of an overdose on July 19, 2021. Olrick’s autopsy report revealed that he had Klonopin, a highly addictive drug used to treat panic attacks, and fentanyl in his system.

“The fact that the Klonopin and the fentanyl were in his system tells me that he was stressed and he just wanted to calm it down a little bit,” Pratt-Weiss said. “But I doubt she’ll turn to OD enough if she knows what’s in it.”

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Olrik’s story can happen to anyone. That’s why Pratt-Weiss, who is now on a mission to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, says the drug knows no race, class or gender.

“Now I have a friend whose daughter is addicted to fentanyl, and he’s been through hell trying to get her into rehab,” Pratt-Weiss said. “My neighbor who just bought a house behind me lost her twin daughters to fentanyl last October.”

However, it is unlikely that the US will completely stop the flow of fentanyl into the country. All the sources Fox News Digital spoke to on the subject said that not enough resources are being devoted to the problem. In some cases, local authorities are lagging behind in terms of funds.

“I definitely think we’re falling short. We need to treat it like COVID.

Despite the lack of resources, both Westhoff and Pratt-Weiss agreed that public education can go a long way in combating the problem.

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“Education is the key. People need to talk to their kids. They need to tell them not to try anything. They need to look at the texts of their children under 18 (and) teach them that these things, even anti-depressants. , will be lace.” Pratt-Weiss said. “Everybody, sooner or later, knows someone has been affected. I thought it was really important for people to be educated right now.”

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