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Authorities seized over 115 million illegal fentanyl pills in 2023

There was a significant increase in the number and weight of illegal fentanyl powder seized by law enforcement as well.
Illegal pills containing fentanyl.
Posted at 5:41 PM, May 13, 2024

The number of illegal and deadly fentanyl pills taken off the streets by law enforcement has dramatically increased from about 49,700 in 2017 to over 115 million last year, according to a new study.

The synthetic opioid in pill form — which the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control said is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine — accounted for 49% of the total fentanyl seizures in 2023, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse said.

There was a significant increase in the weight of illegal fentanyl powder seized by law enforcement as well, the study said. Data on the liquid form was not analyzed.

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Most of the law enforcement seizures of illegal fentanyl pills occurred in the western part of the U.S., the study said.

The CDC said over 150 people in the U.S. die every day from overdoses linked to opioids like fentanyl. Many people don’t even know they’ve taken it, as the drug is commonly mixed with other illegal substances because it’s cheaply made and extremely potent.

The Food and Drug Administration first approved fentanyl as a prescription pain medicine in 1998. But the availability of the drug through illegal avenues has skyrocketed in recent years, experts said.

Illegal fentanyl has become a main contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S. and is linked to an unsettling rise in overdose deaths among teens between 2010 and 2021, according to recent studies.

An illustration showing the scale of a lethal dose of fentanyl powder next to a penny.
An illustration showing the scale of a lethal dose of fentanyl powder next to a penny.

Perhaps the scariest part about illegal fentanyl is that a lethal dose may be as small as two milligrams, the NIDA said.

The NIDA’s analysis was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The quarterly data analyzed from the study came from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, a grant program administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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