DENVER (KDVR) — As fentanyl-related deaths continue piling up, lawmakers at the national level say they need to consider dozens of policy changes to fight it.
The accidental overdose deaths of five in a Commerce City apartment last month sparked a statewide call to arms against the synthetic opioid. Among others, Gov. Jared Polis called on the Colorado General Assembly to pass legislation that would make heavier penalties for sellers of the drug, which is lethal in even small doses and frequently mixed into other street drugs.
A report from the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking explains how fentanyl has grown into such widespread problem in the U.S. It is cheaper, stronger and easier to smuggle than naturally-derived opioids such as heroin or morphine, and so it’s appealing to Mexican drug cartels.
Fentanyl’s potency alone makes it an attractive product.
The yearly demand for illegal heroin in the U.S. is about 125 metric tons. It takes only 5 metric tons of fentanyl to satisfy the same demand.
Virtually all the fentanyl in the U.S. comes from China somehow. Some of the fentanyl is legally produced and gets shipped from China to the U.S. for medical purposes. Some can get sold into the black market.
More often though, in the illegal drug trade, Mexican cartels simply buy the ingredients to make fentanyl from badly-regulated chemical suppliers in China.
“Mexico is the principal source of this illicit fentanyl and its analogues today,” reads the report. “In Mexico, cartels manufacture these poisons in clandestine laboratories with ingredients — precursor chemicals —sourced largely from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Because illicit fentanyl is so powerful and such a small amount goes such a long way, traffickers conceal hard-to-detect quantities in packages, in vehicles, and on persons and smuggle the drug across the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The ease of production and smuggling both contribute to the spike in fentanyl presence since 2014. In only two years, the amount of counterfeit pills seized in the U.S. has increased almost tenfold, from 2.6 million in 2019 to 20 million in 2021.
Recommended actions will need help from several countries at once and include monitoring chemical supply, tightening customs, increasing enforcement efforts and expanding addiction services.