According to the latest data available, overdose from Fentanyl has now become the uncontested no. 1 single cause of mortality in the United States among people aged between 18 and 45. The opioid crisis has taken an immense toll on innocent Americans, who are often unaware of the tiny yet dangerous doses of Fentanyl that are often mixed into less potent drugs.
It is hardly a revelation that the United States has long led the world in terms of overdose deaths. But the sheer scale of this tragedy becomes clear from the fact that more Americans succumb to this condition than people from the next twenty countries combined. Even Sweden, the country with the highest overdose death rate in Europe, loses four times less people per million than the U.S.
The number has risen sharply after the introduction of COVID-19 control measures in 2020. From April 2020 to April 2021, the number of Americans who died from drug overdose crossed 100,000 for the first time in history, according to the CDC. Even more shockingly, total deaths from Fentanyl in particular almost doubled between 2019 and 2021, and now stand at roughly 65,000 lives lost per year.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be over 50 times more potent than Heroin or Marijuana. Even very small dozes of the drug can easily result in accidental death. Medical Fentanyl is sometimes used for pain relief and anesthesia in exceptionally serious cases, but the illegal supply of opioid has surged in recent years thanks to cheap manufacturing in China, from where the drug is then trafficked over to the southern border of the United States. In fact, production is so simple that it is next to impossible to adequately cope with the issue from the supply side for the time being.
Despite the gravity of the situation, the policy response at home has been deafeningly silent. As Fentanyl expert Ben Westhoff explained to the NPR, the sharp contrast between the attention and resources dedicated to the opioid deaths, and – for instance – COVID-19 is the root cause of this out-of-control situation, especially that drugs have overall killed much more people than the pandemic.
So far, most states have failed to take proper measures to ensure safe consumption of less powerful drugs. This could potentially prevent the accidental consumption of and addiction to Fentanyl. Instead, the public reaction to the crisis continues to revolve around drug seizures and federal border control measures. While these measure might make good content for culture wars, they have so far failed to ameliorate the situation even a little. For example, the Texas Department of Public Safety recently claimed to have seized the equivalent of 200 million lethal doses of Fentanyl, but the state retains one of the weakest overdose protection infrastructures in the nation. Unless we put aside our partisan squabbles and unite as Americans for real progress, the opioid crisis will likely continue to aggravate.