WASHIGTON-More Americans than ever are dying from fentanyl overdoses as the fourth wave of the opioid epidemic crashes through every community, in every corner of the country. It was six years ago that Kim Blake’s son Sean died from an accidental fentanyl overdose in Burlington, Vermont. He was 27 years old. “Every time I hear of a loss to substance use, my heart breaks a little more,” Ms Blake wrote in a blog dedicated to her son in 2021.
“Another family shattered. Forever grieving the loss of dreams and celebrations.”
That year, the US witnessed a grim milestone: for the first time ever, drug overdoses killed more than 100,000 people across the country in one single year.
Of those deaths, more than 66% were tied to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Fentanyl is a pharmaceutical drug that can be prescribed by a doctor to treat severe pain.
But the drug is also illegally manufactured and sold by criminal gangs. Most of the illegal fentanyl found in the US is trafficked from Mexico using chemicals sourced from China, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
In 2010, less than 40,000 people died from a drug overdose across the country, and less than 10% of those deaths were tied to fentanyl. Back then, deaths were mostly driven by the use of heroin or prescription opioids. The contrast is outlined in a study released this week by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that examines trends in US overdose deaths from 2010-21 using data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.