Officials in New York announced new efforts to crack down on synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is causing drug death rates to soar throughout the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced a legislative proposal Thursday that adds 11 types of fentanyl and 35 types of synthetic marijuana, commonly called K2, to New York’s list of controlled substances. The substances are already illegal at the federal level, but Cuomo says more restrictions are needed within the state to fight back against drug dealers, who are always tweaking the chemical makeup of their products, reports the New York Post.
New York is being battered by opioid overdose deaths, which increased 35 percent statewide between 2015 and 2016. Synthetic opioids, not prescription painkillers, are now the primary driver of the increase in deaths. Fentanyl related overdose deaths spiked by 135 percent across New York last year.
“They go back to the lab,” Cuomo said Thursday, according to the New York Post. “They alter it slightly and now it’s a different drug…It’s a game and that’s what they’re playing.”
Fentanyl is blamed as the primary culprit behind the massive increase in opioid-related overdose deaths since 2010. The fatal painkiller is coming in through international mail and private carriers from China and Hong Kong, where the majority of fentanyl is produced globally.
Authorities nabbed 81 pounds of fentanyl during the fiscal year ending last week, a new record that more than triples seizures of fentanyl from the previous year. Officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where 60 percent of all U.S.-bound international mail passes through, say increased resources for package screenings are dramatically boosting their success rate.
While officials say they are making progress against the illegal drug trade, they are still fighting an uphill battle. Much of the illicit drugs coming into the U.S. still get lost among the estimated 1 million packages that come through JFK Airport everyday.
A recent STAT analysis predicts the annual death toll from opioids will rise by roughly 35 percent between 2015 and 2027. Their research predicts up to 500,000 people could die from opioids over the next decade. The experts agree, even in a best-case scenario, the crisis will not visibly start to subside until after 2020.
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