Fentanyl's deathly grip on America: 1,500 deaths a week, cities turned into ... trends now
The US is in the midst of a catastrophic fentanyl epidemic that is causing an eye-watering number of deaths and tearing the fabric of American society apart.
The ultra-strong opioid being cut with virtually every street drug in the country killed a record 75,000 Americans in 2021, the equivalent of 1,500 lives lost every week.
Fentanyl - which is 100 times more potent than morphine - started off as a cheap and potent alternative to heroin and was used by only the most hardcore drug addicts in the US, who mainly injected it or smoked it through a pipe.
But its cheap manufacturing costs and potency have made it the go-to cutting agent for cartels and drug dealers in the US looking to stretch their supply. It's now found n everything from cocaine to molly and street benzodiazepines like Xanax.
Fentanyl has now infected almost every major city in America, turning once-thriving streets in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia into wastelands. Scenes of zombified addicts shooting up or smoking the drug in front of children are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life.
The inner city district has long been a magnet for drug users seeking their next high, but the scale of problems caused by xylazine is shocking even to locals who have become accustomed to such distressing scenes
Deaths caused by fentanyl in the US surged in the 2010s. At the start of the decade, 2,666 Americans died of a fentanyl overdose. This figure shot up to 19,413 by 2016. Covid made the situation worse, with a record 72,484 deaths recorded in 2021
The fentanyl crisis has helped fuel the steep drop in American life expectancy in recent years. Americans now live 76.4 years on average, down from 78.8 years in 2019. In the UK, which suffered the Covid pandemic just as the US did, but does not suffer a fentanyl crisis, life expectancy slightly increased from 81.3 years in 2019 to 81.52 in 2021.
Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, one of the most commonly used pain-reliever in the world.
It takes just a small dose of fentanyl to cause an overdose. Just two milligrams - the equivalent of five grains of salt - is enough to cause death.
Because it is cut into other popular drugs, many people who die of overdoses do not know they are taking fentanyl. Fentanyl has been partially blamed for America's sharp fall in life-expectancy over the past three years.
'Substance use is more dangerous than it has ever been, as fentanyl has continued to permeate the illicit drug supply, increasing the risk for overdoses among both people with substance use disorders as well as those who use drugs occasionally,' Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said last month.
Experts have described the drop in life expectancy from 78.8 in 2019 to 76.4 in 2021 as 'dramatic' and 'substantial'.
Officials in Washington state say they run out of space in morgues and crematoriums as the drug tears through local communities.
Dr Paul Christo, a pain medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told DailyMail.com the fentanyl crisis was the equivalent of the 9/11 tragedy - the biggest terror attack in US history which killed 2,900 Americans - happening every fortnight.
'You don't need very much of [fentanyl] in order to stop breathing... it's really the doses that make it so deadly,' Dr Christo explained.
'It gives a more intense high [than other opioids],' he continued, explaining why it is often used as a cutting agent.
He also explained that there is 'no quality control on the street', making lethal doses surprisingly common.
Fentanyl was invented in the US in 1959 as a cheaper alternative to other painkillers used in hospitals and health centers worldwide.
Three chemicals, benzylfentanyl, 4-anilinopiperidine and norfentanyl and considered to be precursors to fentanyl by the DEA - meaning they are primary ingredients to the drug's creation.
It binds to opioid receptors in a person's nervous system, which are responsible for giving the body a pleasurable feeling when activated.
Dr Christo explains that fentanyl acts faster than other opioids, and can quickly pass the brain's blood-barrier and attach to receptors in the brain. It acts faster and creates stronger sensations, which can lead to a denial of oxygen to the brain and a deadly overdose.
Fentanyl's high potency makes it an excellent choice for use in hospitals. Dr Christo explains that it is an FDA approved drug often used as an anesthetic in surgeries to help relieve pain.
It can also be given in pill form, or through skin patches, for patients in extreme pain.
While it is most often used for cancer patients, the drug is widely available to many seeking relief from pain.
But the extreme potency of the drug has also made it popular as an illicit street drug.
The drug was initially produced in India and China and mailed to recipients across North America. Makeshift labs have since sprung up in Mexico to receive the precursor chemicals from Asia, mix them or press them into pills, and smuggle them into the US
US drug agents seized 379million potentially fatal does of fentanyl in 2022 – enough to kill every American.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said it had captured 50.6 million fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl and 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder during the year, calling it the equivalent of 'more than 379 million potentially deadly doses.'
Owing to its low price and relative ease of production, fentanyl has supplanted prescription opioids and heroin in the illegal drugs market.
A potentially fatal dose is just two milligrams.
It was the major reason for the more than 107,000 overdose deaths across the United States from July 2021 to June 2022, according to official data.
The DEA said the deadly man-made opioid, which caused only a fraction of overdose deaths a decade ago, is now the 'deadliest drug threat facing this country.'
'It is a highly addictive man-made opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose,' it said.
The DEA's finds were more than double the