The Drug Enforcement Administration is beefing up efforts to combat the flow of illicit opioids around the country, establishing six new teams that will be dispatched to some of the areas hit hardest by addiction.
DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson announced the new effort Friday, a day after President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. The six new law enforcement teams will focus on the trafficking of fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, which overtook heroin this year as the deadliest drug in America.
The teams will be dispatched to New Bedford, Mass.; Charleston, W.Va.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; and Long Island, N.Y, which they chose based upon opioid mortality rates and the amount of illicit fentanyl flowing through the community.
“At a time when overdose deaths are at catastrophic levels, the DEA’s top priority is addressing the opioid epidemic and pursuing the criminal organizations that distribute their poison to our neighborhoods,” Patterson said in a statement Friday. “These teams will enhance DEA’s ability to combat trafficking in heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues and the violence associated with drug trafficking.”
Fentanyl can kill in even the smallest doses and is being cut into heroin, and increasingly cocaine supplies, across the country. 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.
The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released its first preliminary report in August giving an accounting of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC estimates that drug deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016, with 64,070 Americans suffering a fatal overdose that year, driven primarily by fentanyl.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
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