In April, Prince died of an overdose of fentanyl, a deadly opioid sometimes prescribed as a painkiller. Over the past few years, several cases have been reported of Americans found with heroin laced with the opioid. According to a new internal U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence briefing reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, there is a growing fentanyl crisis in the U.S. The drug is reportedly coming in from a network China. Melvin Patterson, a staff coordinator from the DEA's public affairs office, confirmed to Complex that fentanyl addiction has become an "epidemic" in the U.S.
Growing numbers of U.S. traffickers have been found selling the drug online, and while it's sometimes coming in through Mexico, China is the main source. In the spring, Chinese customs agents found a package bound for Mexico with 70 kilograms of fentanyl so powerful that one of the agents went into a coma just from handling it.
The drug is 50 times as powerful as heroine, and in 12 states affected by the fentanyl crisis, 5,500 people have died from overdoses between 2013 and 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal. Though the U.S. constitutes just five percent of the world's population, we consume over 90 percent of the opioids, said Patterson.
The report also found an influx of counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl but resemble legal medications on the U.S. market. Pills disguised as prescription hydrocodone were linked to the death of 13 people in Northern California, and ones resembling Xanax killed three people in Pinellas County, Fla. To avoid this, Patterson warns against getting prescription drugs on the black market.
The network in China has been smuggling pill presses into the U.S. to create the pills, according to the report. This spring, officials in Memphis found multiple pill presses labeled as other goods shipped alongside fentanyl and two analogs from China. Another pill press was found at Los Angeles International Airport with the label "hole puncher."
The DEA has agents stationed in China and Mexico to catch people trying to smuggle in the drug, said Patterson. On a larger scale, though, he believes we need to prescribe fentanyl as a painkiller less liberally to prevent patients from becoming addicted, reexamine manufacturing practices, and work to combat drug addiction on a broader scale. "We need to get a handle on that just by looking at the addiction issues that we have here in the states," he said.