The Drug Enforcement Administration said it seized enough fentanyl so far this year to kill every single American citizen.
In a press release Tuesday, the DEA said it had seized some 50.6 million fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl, along with more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder, with two weeks left in calendar year 2022. That amounts to more than 379 million lethal doses of fentanyl so far this year, more than enough to kill every single citizen of the United States. There are 333 million people in the United States, according to the Census Bureau.
“In the past year, the men and women of the DEA have relentlessly worked to seize over 379 million deadly doses of fentanyl from communities across the country,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement. “These seizures – enough deadly doses of fentanyl to kill every American – reflect DEA’s unwavering commitment to protect Americans and save lives, by tenaciously pursuing those responsible for the trafficking of fentanyl across the United States. DEA’s top operational priority is to defeat the two Mexican drug cartels—the Sinaloa and Jalisco (CJNG) Cartels—that are primarily responsible for the fentanyl that is killing Americans today.”
According to the press release, most of the fentanyl trafficked by the Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels is mass-produced at secret Mexican factories with materials mostly sourced from China. Much of the drug is pressed into the shape of common prescription drugs that are used recreationally, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, and others. The counterfeit pills contain just fentanyl and a filler, and are often deadly. They are readily available on social media.
The DEA press release cautioned consumers to only ever take medications prescribed directly by a trusted physician and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist.
According to DEA laboratory tests, six out of ten counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl contained a potentially lethal dose. That was an increase from 2021, when four out of 10 pills the agency tested were found to contain a lethal dose.
According to another press release from the agency earlier this year, fentanyl is one of the strongest synthetic opioids in circulation; it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. A lethal dose of fentanyl is just two milligrams, roughly equal to 10-15 grains of table salt. Without proper lab testing, it is impossible to tell how much fentanyl is concentrated in a particular pill or powder sample.
More than 107,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2021, according to data from the CDC — the largest number on record. Synthetic opioids accounted for a large share (71,000) of the deaths, The New York Times reported. Furthermore, the nonprofit advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl tweeted in December that buried in the CDC data is the fact that fentanyl specifically was the leading killer of Americans in the 18-45 age range.
Fortunately, researchers at the University of Houston have developed a vaccine that could help fentanyl addicts beat addiction by preventing relapses.
“Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl and prevent it from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated out of the body via the kidneys,” lead researcher Colin Haile said. “Thus, the individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety.”