Fentanyl is causing massive destruction to communities all across the United States.
107,000 Americans overdosed last year and two-thirds of that figure are overdoses estimated to be caused by fentanyl. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is unique in its ability to cause overdoses, as just 2 mg of fentanyl is enough to cause an overdose, roughly the same as a shake of salt.
Fentanyl, which was originally developed in Belgium in the 1960’s as an opioid to relieve chronic pain has now become a nationwide crisis. Many experts in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are arguing that while fentanyl has rapidly become one of the most lethal illicit drugs to enter the US market, it shows a greater pattern of substance addiction and abuse. It is estimated that 140,000 Americans lose their lives every year to alcohol every year. These experts argue that the fentanyl crisis is just the most recent drug of choice in America’s battle against addiction.
In the 1990’s, the dangerous drug OxyContin, an opioid like fentanyl, rose to national attention for its addictive traits. With users of OxyContin and other opioids using it to treat chronic pain, along with other individuals predisposed to addiction being prescribed these opioids, it quickly became a nationwide crisis. In the late 90’s, the US government made a conscious effort to prescribe less opioids to its citizens in an attempt to lessen OxyContin’s impact, however without treating the millions of Americans with substance abuse disorders or addiction these individuals found other sources to ease their pain.
With the decline of prescription opioids we begin to see the rise of fentanyl as well as heroin use increase in the United States. Fentanyl, due to its incredibly high potency as well as its chemical makeup, is incredibly affordable and, unfortunately for US border security, easy to traffic.
The recent fentanyl crisis is creating lasting impacts on both the United States’ relations with Mexico, the US’ largest trading partner, as well as China, which many view as the US’ largest rival. Historically, China banned the production of fentanyl along with the United States around 2017, however it is unclear if the exporting of precursor chemicals, the chemical materials required for the production of fentanyl, stopped as well. While Mexican and Chinese officials have both denied the production of fentanyl or the shipping of precursor chemicals, many US politicians believe to stop the flow of fentanyl into the US, we need stronger border security, others advocate for more aggressive domestic policies. One Mexican cartel in particular, invested in the production and shipment of fentanyl into the United States. The Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most organized cartels, has been caught several times at US border crossings bringing fentanyl tablets. It is also important to note that not just Americans are losing their lives to fentanyl, overdose deaths in Mexico have increased due to the popularity of the drug in the United States as well.
It is clear that there is not one simple solution to the current fentanyl crisis, as it has connections to a wider addiction and substance abuse issue within the United States. Domestically, politicians need to support resources for those who struggle with addiction, in all of its forms. Internationally the United States needs to continue to bolster strong relations with Mexico in order to protect lives on both sides of the border.
If you or someone you know is struggling from addiction,, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Written by: Administrative Intern Charles Larkin