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DEA Reveals Fentanyl, Elephant Tranquilizer Driving Alarming Surge Of Heroin Overdoses

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Drug overdoses in the U.S. claimed roughly 129 lives every day in 2014 and are creating a “crisis of historic proportions,” according to a report from the DEA.

Heroin overdoses tripled between 2010 and 2014, according to the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), released by the DEA Tuesday. Roughly 79 people died every day from heroin or prescription opioid overdoses in 2014, which is the most recent available data on overdoses nationwide. The report chronicles the emergence of fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer approximately 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

Fentenyl is largely manufactured outside the U.S., then smuggled in through the border. Cartels and gangs in Mexico continue to be the principle suppliers of heroin coming across the U.S. border.

“Sadly, this report reconfirms that opioids such as heroin and fentanyl – and diverted prescription pain pills – are killing people in this country at a horrifying rate,” Chuck Rosenberg, DEA acting administrator, said Tuesday. “We face a public health crisis of historic proportions. Countering it requires a comprehensive approach that includes law enforcement, education and treatment.”

Use of prescription painkillers is now more widespread in the U.S. than using tobacco, a stark representation of the opioid epidemic plaguing states across the country. Many people who overdose on substances like heroin began with a dependence on prescription painkillers, but switched after building high tolerances that made them too expensive.

The report warns that even heroin users with extremely high tolerances are more likely to have a fatal overdose due to the presence of carfentanil and fentanyl.

“The presence of carfentanil in illicit U.S. drug markets is cause for concern, as the relative strength of this drug could lead to an increase in overdoses and overdose-related deaths, even among opioid-tolerant users,” according to the NDTA. “Public health officials maintain that fentanyl is contributing to most of this increase [overdoses]. Fentanyl is sometimes added to heroin batches, or mixed with other adulterants and sold as counterfeit heroin, unknown to the user.”

Drug overdoses from opioids have reached epidemic levels according to the DEA, accounting for more deaths in the U.S than homicides, suicides, vehicle crashes and guns.

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