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Fentanyl Use in The U.S: Updates and News

Updated: Feb 28

In the landscape of America's ongoing battle against addiction, few substances have garnered as much concern and attention as fentanyl. Its rise in prominence within the realm of illicit drug use has catalyzed a public health crisis of staggering proportions, leaving devastation in its wake and presenting unprecedented challenges to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and communities nationwide.


In this article, we delve into the intricate web of issues surrounding fentanyl use in the United States. From its origins and pharmacological properties to its impact on individuals, families, and society, we aim to shed light on the multifaceted nature of this crisis. 


Drug Overdose Deaths and fentanyl use Update 2024


In 2023, the fentanyl crisis reached unprecedented levels in the U.S., leading to over 112,000 fatal overdoses, with young individuals and people of color disproportionately affected. This crisis surpassed previous drug epidemics, sparking debates on practical solutions. 


Louise Vincent, a harm reduction activist from North Carolina, remarked on the devastating impact, noting the loss of an entire community.


Vincent, speaking to NPR, emphasized the dangers of fentanyl and xylazine, noting the devastating impact on her community. Public health experts attribute the majority of drug deaths to fentanyl, highlighting the complexity and danger of the illegal drug supply.


Recent threats include xylazine, a horse tranquilizer causing lasting injuries, and nitazenes, synthetic opioids surpassing fentanyl in potency. Mexican cartels often incorporate these chemicals into counterfeit pills resembling ADHD, depression, and pain medications. Professor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher of Stanford University's REACH Lab emphasized the importance of awareness regarding drug use.


Drug overdoses, now a leading cause of death among young Americans aged 18-45, have surged as a significant threat to pregnant women as well. Politicians, particularly Republicans, criticize the Biden administration for not curbing fentanyl smuggling. Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and current GOP presidential nominee hopeful, highlighted the severity of the situation, comparing fentanyl-related deaths to casualties from multiple wars.


2024 Could Be Worse


Fentanyl Crisis in America

Despite fading from headlines during COVID-19, the opioid crisis persists with alarming fatality rates. Between 2017 and 2021, opioid-related overdose deaths surged from 47,600 to 80,411, surpassing annual gun or car fatalities. Fentanyl, a potent synthetic, drove much of this increase. 

Preliminary CDC data for 2022 indicates a comparable toll, with 79,770 opioid-involved overdose deaths. 


Disproportionately impacting Black, American Indian, and Latinx communities, the crisis has widened the mortality gap, with Black men aged 65 and older experiencing seven times the overdose rate of their white counterparts in 2020.


In 2022, 6.1 million Americans aged 12 and above struggled with opioid addiction, as per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Additionally, 8.9 million reported opioid misuse in the past year.


Addiction specialist Sarah Wakeman highlighted the potential for recovery with long-term medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This approach, incorporating counseling and medications like methadone or buprenorphine, significantly reduces overdoses by up to 76%.


The punitive approach perpetuates an overemphasis on detox, deemed by UCLA psychiatrist and neurologist Walter Ling as the most profitable yet least effective recovery method. Despite advancements, many rehab centers prioritize detox over MAT. A 2020 survey revealed only 29% of inpatient programs offered long-term MAT, with even fewer adolescent residential facilities providing buprenorphine. 


Clinicians, including Josiah Rich of Brown University, stress that cultural and ideological barriers hinder addiction care progress.


90-Day State Emergency in Portland


In a coordinated effort, Oregon officials declared a 90-day state of emergency in downtown Portland to combat the city's fatal fentanyl crisis. Governor Tina Kotek, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler jointly issued emergency declarations to tackle the pressing public health and safety issues in Portland's Central City. 


The move announced in a press release on January 30, aimed to address the surge in overdoses, fatalities, and widespread fear stemming from fentanyl usage.


Kotek acknowledged fentanyl's unprecedented danger. Oregon's Measure 110, passed in 2020, decriminalized fentanyl but faced backlash. Opioid deaths surged from 280 to 956 in 2022. Experts stress treatment accessibility.


Emergency declarations, suggested by the Portland Central City Task Force last year, gained support. Kotek, a Democrat, emphasized unity, foreseeing intensified collaboration and focused resources on fentanyl for 90 days, outlining subsequent steps. 


The order facilitated resource allocation and established a central city command center by the city, state, and county. Initiatives included two public health campaigns and increased outreach for treatment, recovery, and housing services. 


The release highlighted ongoing collaborations between the Portland Police Bureau and Oregon State Police to enforce drug sales laws. The command center would collect and analyze downtown fentanyl impact data to address immediate needs and service gaps.


U.S and China Fentanyl Trafficking 


Synthetic Opioid Epidemic

The U.S. and China initiated a collaborative effort to combat the production and distribution of fentanyl, marking a rare instance of cooperation amid strained bilateral relations. Discussions commenced on January 30 following a meeting led by Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Jen Daskal in Beijing.


At a November summit, Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden pledged to cooperate on tackling precursor chemical manufacturers and cutting financing for fentanyl trade. China, denying U.S. claims, saw this as a positive development amid strained relations.


Amid worsening bilateral relations, the working group is viewed positively. China's Minister of Public Security, Wang Xiaohong, emphasized productive communication and a shared work plan. Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Daskal highlighted the White House's significant delegation, underlining the gravity of synthetic drug-related fatalities. Over 100,000 drug overdose deaths, including 82,998 opioid-related fatalities, occurred in the US in 2022, CDC data shows.


Conclusion


In conclusion, the pervasive impact of fentanyl on American communities underscores the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address this crisis. From joint initiatives between the U.S. and China to local interventions, combating fentanyl requires a multifaceted approach. 


With lives at stake and families torn apart, policymakers, healthcare professionals, law enforcement agencies, and communities must continue to work together to prevent further devastation and support those affected by addiction. 


Through education, outreach, and effective policies, we can strive toward a future where the scourge of fentanyl no longer looms over our nation.

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