SEQUOYAH COUNTY, Okla. — The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is warning federal, state and local law enforcement partners of a nationwide spike in fentanyl-related mass overdoses.
In the letter, sent on April 6, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram outlined the current threats and offered the agency's support to law enforcement officers responding to these incidents.
“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “Already this year, numerous mass-overdose events have resulted in dozens of overdoses and deaths. Drug traffickers are driving addiction, and increasing their profits, by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl until it’s too late.”
Fentanyl is highly-addictive, found in all 50 states and often is increasingly mixing it with other illicit drugs by drug traffickers. Traffickers do this in powder and pill form in an effort to drive addiction and attract repeat buyers.
According to the DEA, mass overdoses typically occur in one of the following recurring scenarios:
- When drug dealers sell their product as “cocaine,” when it actually contains fentanyl.
- When drug dealers sell pills designed to appear nearly identical to legitimate prescriptions but are actually fake prescription pills containing fentanyl.
This is creating a frightening nationwide trend where many overdose victims are dying after unknowingly ingesting fentanyl.
Fentanyl-related mass overdoses are characterized as three or more overdoses occurring close in time and at the same location. According to the DEA, last year, the United States suffered more fentanyl-related deaths than gun-related and auto-related deaths combined.
In Oklahoma, one of the states hit hardest by opioid-related deaths, Sequoyah County District Attorney Jack Thorp is also looking to reduce the number of overdoses. Thorp announced a new plan to track down drug traffickers and cripple the pipeline of illegal drugs being brought into the area.
Mark Woodward with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics says it's important we watch our interstates for drugs moving through.
"There's so much of this coming into Oklahoma and Arkansas and Missouri whether it's on I-40 or I-35," said Woodward.
"Whether you get 3,000 pills or 30,000 pills at a traffic stop, that is optionally hundreds if not thousands of lives that are saved," said Woodward.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Oklahoma, there were 478 overdose deaths in 2005 which increased in 2020 to nearly 800 deaths. From January 2020 through February 2022, more than 70 families lost loved ones to drug-related deaths in District 27.
Thorp's new law enforcement initiative is aimed at finding and stopping drug traffickers in Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Wagoner Counties.
"This new initiative will be a partnership between first responders, local law enforcement officers, public health employees, District 27 Drug Task Force agents and prosecutors," Thorp said. "Overdose deaths will be viewed as accidental deaths. Those scenes will be investigated as thoroughly as other crime scenes in order to gather the available evidence and follow that evidence to those responsible."
The District 27 Drug Task Force will work alongside local law enforcement to investigate overdose deaths.
Along with this new plan to reduce overdose deaths in our region, the DEA is also working diligently to trace mass overdoses back to the local drug trafficking organizations and international cartels.
The DEA offers all available resources to assist local law enforcement partners when a mass overdose occurs including:
- Intercepting the substance that is driving the spike in overdoses.
- Investigating and identifying the dealers and larger drug trafficking organizations responsible for the overdose event.
- Providing priority access to all of DEA’s resources, including its labs, chemists, and overdose subject matter experts.
- Assisting with the presentation of the investigation to federal prosecutors; and
- Warning the public about the lethal drug threat.
The DEA continues to seize fentanyl at record rates, seizing almost 2,000 pounds of fentanyl and one million fake pills in the first three months of 2022. According to the DEA, the agency seized more than 15,000 pounds of fentanyl which is enough to kill every American.
For more information on fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, click here.
If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction, you can call the American Addiction Centers hotline at (866) 637-1697 or get help online.
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