The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has said it seized enough fentanyl in 2022 to kill every person in America.
In a statement on Tuesday, the DEA said it had seized 50.6m fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills and more than 10,000lb of fentanyl powder this year – seizures that in total represent more than 379m deadly doses.
Fentanyl is an opioid with a strength from one and a half to 50 times stronger than heroin. It can impair a user’s ability to breathe.
According to the DEA, fentanyl is the most deadly drug threat currently facing the US. Two milligrams of the opioid, enough to fit on a pencil tip, is considered a potentially deadly dose.
“These seizures – enough deadly doses of fentanyl to kill every American – reflect DEA’s unwavering commitment to protect Americans and save lives by tenaciously pursuing those responsible for the trafficking of fentanyl across the United States,” the DEA administrator, Anne Milgram, said.
“DEA’s top operational priority is to defeat the two Mexican drug cartels – the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels – that are primarily responsible for the fentanyl that is killing Americans today.”
Most of the fentanyl currently trafficked by the two cartels is mass-produced in secret factories in Mexico with chemicals mostly sourced from China, the DEA said.
The announcement followed an alert last month that warned the US public of a sharp increase in the lethality of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.
According to the DEA alert, laboratory testing found that six out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills contained a potentially lethal dose of the drug, an increase from four out of 10 last year.
“Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you,” Milgram warned. “Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill.”
Last year, the DEA issued a public safety alert, warning Americans of a drastic rise in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine being sold across the country. Many such pills are made to look exactly like prescription medications including OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax, the DEA said.
This year, the DEA also seized nearly 131,000lb of methamphetamine, more than 4,300lb of heroin, and more than 444,000lb of cocaine.