Dec. 21, 2022 – Apache, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8. These are the street names for fentanyl. And in 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized enough of the deadly synthetic opioid to kill the entire U.S. population.
The seizures amounted to 50 million pills that look identical to popular prescriptions such as Xanax, Percocet, and OxyContin, and 10,000 pounds of fentanyl in powder form. Combined, that’s enough for 379 million fatal doses, the DEA announced this week. (For context, there are 333 million people in the U.S.)
“DEA’s top operational priority is to defeat the two Mexican drug cartels – the Sinaloa and Jalisco (CJNG) Cartels – that are primarily responsible for the fentanyl that is killing Americans today,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement.
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, the CDC says. It is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths and was linked to 67% of last year’s 107,000 overdose fatalities.
Last month, the DEA warned that laboratory testing revealed that fentanyl-laced prescription pills are increasingly likely to contain a lethal dose, with 6 out of 10 pills tested containing at least 2 milligrams – an amount that fits on the tip of a pen and is enough to kill.
The 50 million fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills seized in 2022 by the DEA is twice the number seized by the agency in 2021. They are widely available via dealers on social media.
“No pharmaceutical pill bought on social media is safe,” the DEA warned.
The CDC said that in addition to pill and powder form, illegal fentanyl can come in liquid form and be added to nasal sprays, eyedrops, and dropped onto paper or small candies. A nationwide awareness campaign is about to launch to help educate people on the dangers of the drug, which is tasteless and odorless and cannot be identified by sight.
Test strips are available, the CDC says, noting that they are “inexpensive and typically give results within 5 minutes, which can be the difference between life or death. Even if the test is negative, take caution as test strips might not detect more potent fentanyl-like drugs, like carfentanil.”
The DEA now publishes a running tally of annual fentanyl seizures.