This graphic shows the rise in positive urine tests for fentanyl of
those receiving drug abuse treatment in different parts of the
US. Millennium Health's data is based on some 4.5 million samples
- Fentanyl shows up in ever more urine tests across the western United States
- Study shows the deadly opioid has fully spread from the East to West Coast
- The only silver lining is that detections and overdose deaths may have peaked
A company that processes drug tests has detected a ninefold rise in fentanyl use in the western US these past three years — showing the powerful opioid has now cast its deadly shadow across the whole country.
Eric Dawson, the vice president of clinical affairs at Millennium Health, said his researchers had seen a 146 percent increase in the number of positive fentanyl tests nationwide between 2019 and 2022.
The biggest rises were seen along the Pacific coast and mountain regions, which respectively saw 900 percent and 875 percent increases in detections of the powerful synthetic opioid.
Fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid, is causing carnage on the
streets of Portland, Oregon. The drug has flooded into the US,
initially along the East Coast but the steepest rises are now being seen
in the west
'It's very scary,' Dawson told DailyMail.com.
'Fentanyl has exploded out west, it's caught up with the rest of the country and the country is now blanketed in fentanyl.'
of fentanyl-addled mayhem are common on the streets of western cities
like San Francisco and Portland, but the research shows that even towns
and rural and mountain areas have also been badly hit.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks addiction rates and overdose deaths, which rose dramatically during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and peaked at more than 110,000 in early 2022.
Fentanyl was behind roughly two thirds of those deaths.
The drug is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. It is cheap, packs down small, is relatively easy to smuggle into the US, and is mixed into pills that then claim the lives of users, who are often unaware they are taking something so powerful.
Like recent indications from the CDC, Millennium Health's data suggests America may be starting to turn the corner on the crisis, with overdose deaths beginning to fall back to pre-pandemic levels.
Still, said Dawson, the spread of fentanyl use from the east to the West Coast shows there is still plenty of work to do.
'Overdose numbers are slightly less than the highs of 2020 and 2021,' he said.
'But this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, we need every resource mobilized to tackle this crisis, and a lot more needs to be done helping people get access to treatment.'
Millennium Health's data is based on some 4.5 million urine and saliva tests of those receiving drug abuse treatment. While the CDC often releases six-month-old data, the private firm has results from as recently as last month.
Of those users who were found to have fentanyl in their systems, most had also taken methamphetamine, cocaine or other drugs.
As well as seeing rising fentanyl use, researchers also noted ever more cases of the drug's chemical copycats, known as analogues.
Angela Huskey, the company's chief clinical officer, said fentanyl analogues varied across the US, and that some were more deadly than others.
'America doesn't just face one fentanyl problem — it faces several,' said Huskey.
The US opioid crisis has been surging for decades, but intensified in the pandemic, when lockdowns and hospital closures left people particularly bored and vulnerable to addiction.
A display of the fentanyl and meth that was seized by US border guards at the Nogales Port of Entry is shown at a press conference in Nogales, Arizona. Powerful illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl have been killing more than 100,000 people a year in the US
A fentanyl user on the streets of Portland, Oregon. The pills, known on the street as 'blues', cost anywhere between $3-5 a pop and are first crushed then superheated on foil with the vapor inhaled through a tube
Fentanyl is commonly mixed with drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, or pressed into pills that resemble other prescription opioids. On the street, it is known as everything from 'blues' to China Girl, and Goodfellas.
Tests by the Drug Enforcement Administration show that four in ten pills sold in the US have at least 2mg of fentanyl — the equivalent of about five grains of salt — a dose that is considered potentially lethal.
The agency warns that 'one pill can kill'.
The Facebook group Lost Voices of Fentanyl has tens of thousands of members who pay tribute to their loved ones who were claimed by the drug.
In Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and other big cities, the sight of homeless people collapsed on sidewalks, puffing fentanyl smoke and lurching from moments of slumber to bouts of violent shivering have become all too common.
The devastation has become so bad that fentanyl flows across the US-Mexico border have become a flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans.
Ron DeSantis, Florida's Republican Governor who is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run, this week ranked the explosion of fentanyl use alongside unchecked immigration while criticizing President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
'We have a lot of problems accumulating here in our own country that he is neglecting,' DeSantis said on Monday.
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