GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A U.S. attorney says the only way to combat fentanyl is to fight it on multiple fronts: supply, production, distribution and demand.
“We’ve been dealing with the opioid crisis and fentanyl of course is an opioid. We’ve been dealing with this crisis for years now. The chapter that we’re in right now is a more dangerous chapter than we’ve ever experienced. That is almost entirely because of fentanyl,” U.S. Attorney for Western Michigan Mark Totten said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that Totten said has “come to dominate the landscape.”
In 2021, around 71,000 people in the United States died from fentanyl poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“That is the highest number ever recorded, and it’s extremely concerning right now,” Totten said.
Compared to other drugs, fentanyl is cheaper and more accessible. Totten explained that Mexican cartels are producing these drugs at scale, and all they need are the precursor chemicals to make it.
“They’re not limited, for example, by the constraints of a growing season,” he said. “Heroin is a type of opioid but it has to be grown. We’re now in a position because we’re looking at a synthetic drug where the only limit is the precursor chemicals that are available.”
Earlier this week, 4 kilograms of fentanyl were found during a traffic stop on I-94 near Paw Paw.
The $6 million worth of fentanyl was connected to the infamous Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel and was enough “to kill 2.5 million people, which is roughly a third of the population of the state of Michigan…” Van Buren County Judge Michael McKay said at the driver’s arraignment.
Fentanyl is a particularly dangerous opioid that is often cut with other drugs, and Totten said it only takes two milligrams to potentially kill someone.
The opioid is showing up on the streets in the form of counterfeit pills like Xanax, Percocet and Adderall.
“Names that people recognize but in fact they’re fake pills and they contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl,” Totten said.
In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that roughly six out of 10 counterfeit pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
“The lesson here is very clear: If your doctor has not proscribed the pill and your pharmacy has not dispensed it, you should never ever take it,” Totten said.
Right now, Totten explained, the government is to try to educate and dismantle the regional suppliers.
“We want to focus on the larger players and try to disrupt those pipelines,” he said.