Prosecutions for crimes related to deadly synthetic opioids are significantly increasing at the state and federal level as officials grapple with an increased flow of narcotics into the country.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 30 to 50 times more powerful than pure heroin, was involved in 45 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2016. The substance is primarily manufactured in China and is either shipped directly into the U.S. through mail services or comes across the southern border second-hand from drug cartels in Mexico, reports The Washington Post.
Law enforcement officials are dramatically increasing the amount of fentanyl-trafficking cases they pursue in response to the deteriorating crisis. Prosecutions involving fentanyl rose at the federal level from only 74 in 2016 to 267 in 2017. (RELATED: Pain Clinic CEO Charged In $200 Million Opioid Fraud Scheme That Bought Him Mansion, Exotic Cars)
“Synthetic opioids like fentanyl killed more Americans than any other kind of drug in 2016,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday, according to The Washington Post. “In response, the Department of Justice tripled our fentanyl prosecutions in 2017.”
The Department of Justice under Sessions is making progress in the fight against both smugglers and medical providers taking advantage of the national opioid epidemic. Federal authorities have charged more than 150 doctors for criminal activity linked to opioid medications since 2017.
Fentanyl seizures by Border Patrol agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection increased by 72 percent in 2017, a recent report from Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill shows. The number of overall opioid seizures nearly doubled from 579 pounds in 2013 to 1,135 pounds in 2017.
Fentanyl overtook heroin as the U.S.’s deadliest substance in 2016, claiming 19,413 lives, according to the CDC.
The epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S., officials say. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.
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