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According to a new study, fentanyl seizures in the United States have quadrupled in recent years, with a significant shift towards the drug being trafficked in pill form. 

The research, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and based on data from the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, highlights a worrying trend in the expansion of fentanyl across the nation.

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According to the report, in 2017, authorities confiscated approximately 50,000 fentanyl-laced pills. By 2023, this number had escalated to over 115 million. Pills now comprise about half of all fentanyl seizures, marking a significant increase from just 10% six years ago. NIDA Director Nora Volkow expressed concern over the rapidity and scale of the issue, noting, “The main finding is how strikingly fast fentanyl is entering into the country disguised as imitator pills.”

The surge in pill seizures is attributed to heightened awareness among law enforcement about fentanyl’s presence in pill shipments and an increase in the overall quantity of fentanyl being trafficked, primarily through borders shared with Mexico and Canada. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) identifies China as the primary origin for fentanyl that finds its way into the US. Despite Chinese regulations against such practices, a recent report by the House Select Committee highlighted ongoing challenges, stating, “thousands of PRC companies openly selling these illicit materials on the Chinese internet.”

Another troubling aspect of the fentanyl crisis is its accessibility online, where people often unknowingly purchase fentanyl-contaminated products. Volkow pointed out the demographic shifts in those affected, particularly highlighting the rise in overdose deaths among individuals aged 65 to 74 and teenagers. She explained, “We’re seeing people that are older — there is a significant rise in people that are 65 to 74 that are dying from overdose fatalities.”

Fentanyl’s distribution patterns also reveal regional disparities. In 2023, Florida, Arizona, and California were the top states for fentanyl pill seizures, with the Western US leading in the number and size of seizures, particularly in pill form. The NIDA report elaborated on the dominance of the West in the recent drug seizure landscape, indicating a significant shift from earlier trends.

In response to the crisis, Volkow advocated for the use of fentanyl test strips and naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose, as cost-effective measures to mitigate the drug’s deadly impact.


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