In theory, the quantity of the drug fentanyl seized in the USA in 2022 could have killed all of the country's approximately 333 million inhabitants. The US anti-narcotics police DEA announced on Tuesday (local time) that more than 50.6 million counterfeit fentanyl-laced prescription pills and more than 4530 kilograms of fentanyl powder had been seized. That equates to "more than 379 million potentially lethal doses of fentanyl." That is enough "to kill every American".
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. It's a driver of the opioid crisis in the US, killing tens of thousands every year. It is estimated that around 108,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2021, up 17 percent from the year before. As little as two milligrams of fentanyl — the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil — is considered a potentially lethal dose, according to the DEA. "Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat to this country," the DEA said.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved for the treatment of severe pain, usually associated with advanced cancer. However, illegally manufactured fentanyl is sold in illicit drug markets for its heroin-like effects, and is often mixed with heroin or other drugs such as cocaine, or compressed into counterfeit prescription pills. Around 60 percent of the counterfeit tablets examined by the authorities contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.
According to the DEA, its priority is to dismantle two Mexican drug cartels - the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels. They are primarily responsible for the fentanyl. Most of the fentanyl traded by the two cartels is made in secret factories in Mexico using chemicals mostly sourced in China.
In 2022, the DEA seized more than twice as many fentanyl-laced pills as the year before. The DEA also seized over 120,000 pounds of methamphetamine, around 4,000 pounds of heroin and around 400,000 pounds of cocaine.