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What to do about Fentanyl

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David Martin Davies

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 93,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020, which is a record high. Over 60% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl.

Fentanyl is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl examined CDC data and determined fentanyl has become the leading cause of death for people ages 18 to 45 in 2019 and 2020.

Many of the deaths are caused by young people taking counterfeit forms of prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax and Adderall but are secretly laced with a fatal dose of fentanyl.

The fentanyl problem in the U.S. is multifaceted, and addressing it requires a comprehensive approach that involves prevention, treatment, and law enforcement efforts. This includes increasing access to overdose-reversal medications like naloxone, improving access to addiction treatment, and cracking down on illegal drug trafficking.

It's true that much of the U.S. fentanyl supply is smuggled through the southern border. However, experts say the vast majority of fentanyl and other illegal drugs are smuggled through official ports of entry, hidden in large trucks and passenger vehicles, while a relatively small amount is smuggled by cartels across the border between those ports.

Virtually none is smuggled by migrants themselves, says Victor Manjarrez, Jr., a former Border Patrol sector chief who's now a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Gabby Libretti is the Drop-In Center Lead at Texas Harm Reduction Alliance.

Madelein Santibáñez is the Harm Reduction Director at Corazon San Antonio.

Jonathon Caulkins is a Professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

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*This interview will be recorded on Wednesday, April 26.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi