The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is marking May 10 as “National Fentanyl Awareness Day” in order to make more citizens aware of the life-threatening dangers posed by the synthetic opioid.
“Fentanyl is killing Americans at unprecedented rates,” DEA administrator Anne Milgram said in a May 9 press release. “On this first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day, please help save lives by making sure you talk with your friends and family about the dangers of this deadly drug.”
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 107,000 people died of drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in November 2021, out of which 66 percent was accounted for by synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
In 2021, illicit fentanyl became the top cause of death among Americans aged between 18 and 45, surpassing car accidents, suicides, and COVID-19 deaths, according to Families Against Fentanyl (FAF).
Among this demographic, fentanyl deaths increased by 1.7 times between 2020 and 2021. Since 2015, deaths from gun homicides, suicides, and car accidents have remained almost the same while deaths from fentanyl have risen significantly.
Drug traffickers are mixing other drugs with fentanyl to drive up addiction. As such, many people end up consuming fentanyl unknowingly and overdose. According to the DEA, just two milligrams of fentanyl is considered to be a “potentially lethal dose.”
A group of bipartisan senators has also introduced a Senate resolution that seeks to officially designate May 10 as National Fentanyl Awareness Day.
The role of China in creating the fentanyl epidemic in America is not small. The DEA is focusing on precursor chemicals—ingredients necessary to manufacture fentanyl—in a bid to prevent the opioid from getting into counterfeit drugs.
Precursor chemicals are made in China and then shipped to Mexican cartels before arriving at American borders, Milgram said in an interview with CBS News. Chinese companies are presently the largest producer of these chemicals, necessary to create fentanyl.
The DEA is expecting China to “do more” on the issue. Though the agency wants the ability to track every shipment of chemicals coming out from Chinese chemical companies and transported to Mexico, they are currently not in a position to do so.
Between January 2021 and March 2022, DEA seized 2,100 pounds of precursor chemicals, which is enough to create a billion potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.
Milgram acknowledges that her agency is not seizing every shipment of precursor chemicals. “This is what we worry about,” she said.
“That’s part of why we are so focused right now on stopping the chemicals coming out of the Chinese chemical companies. If we can go as far upstream as possible to China, we have a much better chance of stopping it ever being made in Mexico.”