DEA report says opioid threat still at ‘epidemic levels,’ stimulant reach is getting worse

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(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WOWK) – Acting Drug Enforcement Administrator D. Christopher Evans announced the release of the National Drug Thread Assessment on Tuesday. This is the DEA’s annual publication detailing threats posed to the U.S. by domestic and international drug trafficking as well as the abuse of illicit drugs.

“This year’s report shows the harsh reality of the drug threats facing communities across the United States,” said Acting Administrator Evans. “While the COVID-19 pandemic plagues this nation, so, too, do transnational criminal organizations and violent street gangs, adjusting to pandemic restrictions to flood our communities with dangerous drugs. DEA and our local, state, and federal partners continue to adapt to the ever changing landscape, remaining focused on the current threats and looking to the horizon for emerging threats. We will always defend the American people against illicit substances that ruin lives, devastate families, and destroy communities.”

“Fentanyl, whether it’s mixed with heroin or pressed into counterfeit pills, along with methamphetamine and cocaine continue to present the greatest drug threats across the Louisville Division,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Todd Scott, who oversees DEA operations in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.  “While the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the headlines this past year, overdose deaths have risen sharply and that’s cause for great concern.”

Drug trends in the U.S. evolve continuously. Even though fentanyl and its analogues from China have substantially decreased since the DEA’s emergency scheduling action of fentanyl-related substances in 2018 and China’s enactment of fentanyl-class controls in 2019, the opioid threat is still at epidemic levels. It affects large portions of the country. On top of the opioid threat, the use and reach of stimulants (methamphetamine and cocaine) is getting worse.

More than 83,000 people died from drug-related overdoses between July 2019 and July 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was a significant increase from the 70,000 people who died of overdoses in 2019.

2020 NDTA findings of note:

  • Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) remain the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States.
  • Illicit fentanyl is one of the primary drugs fueling the epidemic of overdose deaths in the United States, while heroin and prescription opioids remain significant challenges to public health and law enforcement.
  • Mexican cartels are increasingly responsible for producing and supplying fentanyl to the U.S. market. China remains a key source of supply for the precursor chemicals that Mexican cartels use to produce the large amounts of fentanyl they are smuggling into the United States. 
  • Drug-poisoning deaths and seizures involving methamphetamine have risen sharply as Mexican TCOs increase the drug’s availability and expand the domestic market.
  • Constraints associated with the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic – daily travel restrictions, U.S. border closings, closure of nonessential businesses, and broad shelter-in-place orders – temporarily posed new challenges to criminal organizations’ movement of drugs during the first half of 2020.

The NDTA provides yearly statistics on usage and trafficking trends for drugs such as prescription drugs, heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, and hundreds of synthetic drugs. The effect of COVID-19 has been added to the report during this first part of 2020

The National Drug Threat Assessment is available on the DEA’s website.

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