DEA Scoops Up 36 Million Lethal Doses of Fentanyl Off the Streets

Enough fentanyl to kill 36 million people—nearly the size of the population of California—was taken off the streets in a recent federal drug sweep.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the results of a widespread drug operation spanning May to September, resulting in over 10 million fentanyl pills and what they say is 36 million lethal doses of the drug. DEA agents blame the mass production of the majority of these pills on two particular cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

While scooping up cartel-manufactured fentanyl off the streets sounds like reason to celebrate—keep in mind that this is only half the problem, and as many as 40% of opioid overdose deaths come straight from the doctor with a prescription, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fentanyl kills indiscriminately, no matter what the source. According to the National Safety Council, young Americans are more likely to die of an opioid overdose than a car crash.

However, it’s highly likely lives were saved in the process during this particular operation. The DEA released the statistics in a September 30 press release.

As part of the One Pill Can Kill initiative—a public Awareness Campaign to educate the public of the dangers of counterfeit pills such as fentanyl—the DEA and its law enforcement partners seized massive quantities of opioid drugs.

How extensive is the opioid epidemic? The DEA seized over 10.2 million fentanyl pills and about 980 pounds of fentanyl powder during the period of May 23 through September 8.

Often, fentanyl is pressed into blue, round pills that appear to be pharmaceutical in nature, so people think they’re safe. Often, they’re not. In addition, they’ve been showing up in different colors, dubbed “rainbow fentanyl” by the media and the DEA itself. Even people with a tolerance to oxycodone or hydrocodone might not stand a chance with fentanyl or its analogs like carfentanil.

According to the DEA’s math, the amount of fentanyl seized is equivalent to over 36 million lethal doses of the drug removed from the supply. DEA agents also seized 338 weapons including rifles, shotguns, pistols, and hand grenades.

“Fentanyl is responsible for killing thousands of people in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV). We are working diligently with our federal, state, and local partners to mitigate this public health crisis,” said Jarod Forget, DEA Washington Division’s Special Agent in Charge. “Our team is actively seizing significant amounts of deadly fentanyl and working hard on impactful operations and community events to halt the distribution of these deadly drugs into our communities. Mexican cartels are pushing deadly fake pills, often laced with fentanyl, into our neighborhoods to exploit the opioid crisis. We will relentlessly pursue criminals who are bringing such deadly drugs and continue to work to keep you and your families safe. Many people who die from fentanyl poisoning unknowingly consumed it mixed into fake pills or other drugs. Our message to the public is that you never can be certain what is in them and that just ‘One Pill Can Kill’.”

Nearly 400 cases were investigated, and 51 cases are linked to overdose poisonings. DEA agents linked 35 of the cases directly to one or both of the primary Mexican cartels responsible for the majority of fentanyl in the United States, which is the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG.

Here’s how things have changed, however: According to the DEA, 129 investigations are linked to social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and TikTok. Anyone in the cannabis industry has seen plugs openly selling all sorts of drugs.

The last time statistics like this were provided was the One Pill Can Kill Phase II results, which were announced by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram last December.

The DEA says that fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this nation. “In 2021, a record number of Americans—107,622—died from a drug poisoning or overdose,” the DEA release reads. “Sixty-six percent of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.”

The fentanyl problem is highlighted by specific events, including a recent incident in suburban Los Angeles that involved pills laced with fentanyl that were disguised as something else. The Pasadena Police Department seized 328,000 fentanyl pills in a single operation on September 24, bringing their total seized to approximately 708,500 pills. Then just minutes away in Whittier, police seized eight pounds of pills laced with fentanyl.

Additional resources for parents and the community can be found on DEA’s Fentanyl Awareness page, and the DEA created a new resource, “What Every Parent and Caregiver Needs to Know About Fake Pills.” 

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