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Fentanyl overdoses eclipse COVID-19 death toll as biggest killer of those 18-45


Shutterstock / GongTo

J-P Mauro - published on 01/07/22

The drug can be laced into other illicit substances, causing quick addiction and unexpected overdoses.

Since 2019, fentanyl overdoses have risen to become the primary killer of young adults aged 18 to 45. New data accumulated by the non-profit Families Against Fentanyl (FAF) cites the illicit drug as killing more young adults than COVID-19, car accidents, and suicide in the last two years. Now, FAF is calling for the drug to be classified as a weapon of mass destruction, which would allow more funding to fight the drug epidemic. 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can become deadly in even slight amounts. While it can be used on its own, one of the reasons that it has become so prevalent is that it can be laced into other drugs, including but not limited to heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. Unsuspecting users of laced drugs can find themselves quickly addicted or unexpectedly overdosing. 

A graphic Tweeted from FAF shows the numbers reaching off the chart:

The data

A fact sheet produced by FAF reports that deaths due to fentanyl had reached 100,000 by the end of 2021. This is a record high that has nearly doubled since 2019. The alarming quantities of these deaths means that fentanyl fatally poisons one person every eight-and-a-half minutes. At that rate, 175 people are killed by fentanyl overdoses each day.

According to a Fox News report, 79,000 people between 18 and 45 years old died of fentanyl overdoses between 2020 and 2021. This figure is alarming experts because it is continuing to rise. Broken down, 2020 saw 37,208 deaths, but the number rose to 41,587 in 2021. Deaths due to fentanyl have even eclipsed the world pandemic, which has seen 53,000 deaths to COVID-19 from the same age group. 

Weapon of mass destruction

FAF has recently changed tactics to combat the rise of this dangerous drug. The organization has made a plea to the U.S. Government to classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). The federal government defines a WMD as “any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxins or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors.” 

The argument for the classification stems in how deadly the drug can be. FAF notes that 5,000 lbs. of fentanyl, the amount seized in a 2018 bust, is the equivalent of 1.2 billion lethal doses. In August of 2019, a collaborative seizure between the U.S. and Mexico took a shipment of 52,000 lbs., enough to kill 11.5 billion people.

According to the U.S. DEA, only 10% of all illicit drugs are being captured. With an estimated 90% of illegal drug shipments making it past borders, there could be as many as 100 billion lethal doses circulating through North America. FAF founder James Rauh said in a statement: 

“This is a national emergency. America’s young adults — thousands of unsuspecting Americans — are being poisoned. It is widely known that illicit fentanyl is driving the massive spike in drug-related deaths. A new approach to this catastrophe is needed.” Rauh added, “Declaring illicit fentanyl a Weapon of Mass Destruction would activate additional and necessary federal resources to root out the international manufacturers and traffickers of illicit fentanyl and save American lives.”

Click here to learn more about Families Against Fentanyl’s work to combat the opioid epidemic.

AddictionCOVID-19United States
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