Fentanyl Continues to Flood the Illegal Drug Trade

A look at the supply and demand of illegal fentanyl in the U.S. today.

minute read

Record Seizures of Fentanyl Not Turning the Tide

U.S. law enforcement agencies are making record seizures of clandestinely produced fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug people are using to get high. Drug dealers are obtaining this dangerous drug through direct mail from China or by smuggling it into the U.S. from Mexico and Canada.

However, fentanyl is rapidly raising the number of drug overdose deaths in our country due to desperate opiate addicts looking for their next fix. Fentanyl is so prevalent that dealers are adding the substance not only to heroin and cocaine, but also to marijuana.

So, what does the flood of fentanyl on the market look like – on the ground? And how can we start to address the demand? Thoughts on creating a drug-free America here. Then, we invite your questions or feedback in the comments section at the end.

Accidental Drug Overdose is the Most Deadly Behavior in the U.S.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the number of fatalities from drug overdose has now exceeded the number of deaths due to car crashes and gun violence. Accidental drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Prescription painkillers may have paved the way for this statistic (here’s how you can recongize an RX drug addict), but the true culprit driving up the death rate is clandestinely produced fentanyl.

Fentanyl has reached virtually every corner of the illegal drug market in the U.S. Established drug dealers who had never heard of the substance two years ago are distributing it on the streets because it is so easy to obtain and it is significantly cheaper than heroin. A kilogram of heroin can be purchased in the U.S. for $60,000 to $80,000 and a kilogram of clandestinely produced fentanyl can be purchased for as little as $3,000. The fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin so it goes a lot further and is more economical for drug dealers.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

Should you try fentanyl? No one should try or take fentanyl. If you are thinking about taking fentanyl, we deeply encourage you to think again.

Where is Drug Overdose Most Evident?

Ohio has seen one of the largest increases in drug overdose deaths per capita in 2016. The majority of recent opiate related deaths are not due to prescription opioids or heroin, but to fentanyl. On May 20, 2017, the DEA seized six kilograms of heroin in South Toledo, Ohio which was the largest seizure of heroin on record in Ohio. The DEA believes this heroin was likely to be “cut” with fentanyl.

Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, Coroner of Hamilton County, Ohio recently confirmed that fentanyl has been found not only in heroin, but also in cocaine and even marijuana. People are dying from fentanyl at such an alarming rate that the morgue in Stark County has no more space for the deceased. On March 17, 2017, the county began to utilize cold storage trailers to make room for the increasing number of overdose victims.

Fentanyl Seizures are Record Breaking

To address the crisis, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and other law enforcement agencies are making record seizures of both fentanyl and heroin throughout the country. In fact, the number of seizures by law enforcement of fentanyl has doubled from 2015 to 2016.

On June 20, 2017, a DEA San Diego investigation resulted in the seizure of nearly 100 pounds of fentanyl, one of the largest seizures to date. The U.S. Attorney’s office estimates this seizure alone represents up to 14 million lethal doses.

The DEA predicts that this trend is likely to continue due to the demand.

DEA Warning to Law Enforcement and other First Responders

The DEA also warns first responders to wear proper personal protective equipment when handling suspected fentanyl. The substance should not be field tested on the street and should immediately be turned over to a laboratory for analysis.


There have been reports of injury of first responders who accidentally inhaled a small amount of the substance while sealing it into an evidence envelope. Fatal doses of fentanyl can be as small as 3 milligrams or less which is equivalent to a couple grains of sand.

We Have to Address the Demand for Fentanyl

Unfortunately, the illegal sale and importation of clandestinely produced fentanyl will continue to cause havoc in our country until the demand for the substance is reduced. In fact, the future of the U.S. opiate crisis as a whole depends upon reducing demand. Further, this can be accomplished through a number of other initiatives. For example, law enforcement efforts can continue to address supply.

However, we must address the demand via two main activities.

  1. The expansion of available treatment facilities for people suffering from opiate addiction. We have to treat those who suffer from opiate addiction and make treatment more accessible.
  2. Educating our younger generation about the dangers of substance abuse will hopefully reduce the demand in the future. All schools, public and private, should have mandatory drug abuse demand reduction training as part of a standard grammar school curriculum. We have to encourage young minds that being drug-free is the key to a happy and long productive life.


About the Author: Practitioners who desire to have their practice audited for DEA compliance relative to prescribing controlled substances, or if you would like to receive training on the diversion of pharmaceutically controlled substances from retired DEA Special Agent Drug Diversion Expert Warren Rivera, please visit www.trainingidea.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/warren-rivera-aa4a3221
Reference Sources: Business Insider: A potent opiate behind surging drug overdose deaths is now being found in marijuana  
Washington Post: Drugs are killing so many people in Ohio that cold-storage trailers are being used as morgues
NBC News: ‘Mass-Casualty Event’: Ohio County Now Tops U.S. in Overdose Deaths
CBS: News: Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than guns
Vice: America’s new deadliest drug is fentanyl
WTVR: Fentanyl seized by law enforcement doubled in 2016, DEA says
Free Beacon: In Huge Drug Bust, DEA Seizes Nearly 100 Pounds of Fentanyl, Arrests Three
About the author
Warren Rivera is a retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Rivera is an experienced public speaker, trainer and an expert in the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Mr. Rivera currently owns Training Idea, LLC, a private consulting firm that provides training on DEA matters to the healthcare industry, law enforcement and the community.
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