LOS ANGELES — Law enforcement is struggling to crack down on the fentanyl crisis. The synthetic opioid can be 50% stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

In 2021 alone, the drug killed nearly 6,000 Californians.  

What You Need To Know

  • Fentanyl use increased in 2016 when Mexican cartels started synthesizing the illegal substance

  • Two milligrams of fentanyl are enough to kill a person
  • Nearly 6,000 Californians died from fentanyl poisoning in 2021 

  • DEA Special Agent William Bodner says teenagers are especially at risk of fentanyl poisoning because young people are accidentally purchasing fake pills on social media that contain lethal doses of fentanyl

William Bodner, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles division of the Drug Enforcement Agency, spoke with “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen about the extensive efforts underway to limit the amount of fentanyl coming into the United States. 

Bodner said he first saw an increase in fentanyl use in 2016 when Mexican cartels started synthesizing the illegal substance. Previously, it was created in China and shipped to the U.S. through pathways on the dark web.

“Now that chemicals go from China to Mexico, the drug is made there, and it comes up here. And they’ve just been flooding the United States with it,” he explained.

Fentanyl has been used medicinally for decades as an epidural to mothers in childbirth and to mitigate pain for pets who have had surgery.

The drug is tasteless, odorless and lethal in even small doses.

Two milligrams of fentanyl can kill a person, which is why there is so little room for error when it comes to consuming the drug. Bodner notes it has gotten harder to identify the people most at risk of fentanyl poisoning.

It used to be that people suffering from substance use disorder were the ones overdosing the most, but now fatalities have appeared beyond the typical drug user. 

“What’s new today is experimental drug users dying, people trying drugs, some for the first time… people who I would classify as recreational drug users, people who use cocaine maybe once a month, twice a month to ‘party.’ Those people are also at risk because fentanyl is mixed with other drugs now and it’s appearing all over in the supply chain.” Bodner said.

He said fentanyl fatalities have skyrocketed because the drug dealers cooking up these cocktails are not pharmacists or chemists, and often create mixtures with incorrect drug proportions that end up killing users. 

Teenagers are especially at risk of fentanyl poisoning. Bodner notes the DEA has seen several cases of young people purchasing pills on social media that they believe to be Xanax, Oxycodone or Percocet that look identical to these drugs, but are in reality lethal doses of fentanyl.

“It’s a misnomer to say it’s a prescription pill laced with fentanyl. The reality is it’s just a fentanyl pill and they’re being deceived and that’s what’s causing a lot of harm in our community,” he explained.

The LA division of the DEA has stepped up efforts to limit the spread of fentanyl into Southern California.

Bodner said their strategy is two-fold. Their priority is to cut off the problem at the wholesale level by stopping drug trafficking at the border. But since the drug is already here, the DEA has an Overdose Justice Task Force devoted to going after drug dealers who have caused fentanyl deaths.

The agency has also launched a social media campaign called One Pill Can Kill to educate young people on the incredible dangers of the drug.

“We can’t just go to a teenager and say ‘make the right choice’ without giving them the information. What is fentanyl? What does it do to the body? Why is it dangerous? And then, most importantly, where’s it appearing? In the illicit drug supply chain? What pills is it in? Hopefully, by giving them that information and telling them about cases where teens have been harmed, they can make better decisions and may make the right decision not to take those pills,” Bodner said.

“Inside the Issues” devoted an entire episode to the fentanyl crisis. To watch this interview and more, click here.

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