Long a scourge on the East Coast, fentanyl is now driving a rapid increase in overdose deaths in the Western U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. In the Seattle area, overdose deaths involving fentanyl were up 57 percent in 2020 over the previous year, according to data from the county medical examiner. Preliminary data show deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl rose 162 percent in the Las Vegas area last year. In Los Angeles County, a recent report blamed fentanyl for a 26 percent jump in overdose deaths among the homeless population during the first seven months of 2020. Fentanyl can be 50 times more potent than heroin, making it possible to overdose on tiny amounts. As a result, when fentanyl hits the streets in force, more people tend to die.
Fentanyl in the U.S. is often made by Mexican cartels using precursor chemicals from China, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The pandemic has compounded the overdose crisis, according to public health officials. Isolation, stress and job loss drove many people to drugs; with homeless shelters and other congregant living spaces closed, addicts often used drugs alone. A projected 88,295 people in the U.S. died from overdoses in the 12-month period that ran through last August, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In all of 2019, there were 70,630 drug deaths, a record that was likely broken last year. Opioids including fentanyl were involved in about 70 percent of overdose deaths in 2019, according to the CDC.