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Fentanyl overdoses, opioids
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Rise in fentanyl overdoses has Pacific Northwest ‘under siege’ from cartel, says DEA

Fentanyl continues to be one of the leading causes behind the region's opioid crisis. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

With Washington state recently reporting a staggering increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in the last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believes a Mexican-based cartel could be to blame.

Fentanyl overdoses in Washington see ‘stunning’ increase in 2020

The second quarter of 2020 saw 171 fentanyl-involved overdoses in Washington, according to data cited by Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington.

Over that same period in 2019, Washington saw just 63 fentanyl overdoses; two years prior to that, there were 18.

As for why that’s occurring, the DEA points to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG).

“The Pacific Northwest of the United States is under siege by the Mexican based CJNG cartel who is flooding the region with clandestine produced synthetic opioids in the form of prescription pills,” it said in a report released on Tuesday.

The DEA says the CJNG is also mixing fentanyl into other illicit substances, like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and then distributing those tainted drugs across the United States.

Fentanyl is anywhere from 30 to 50 times as strong as pure heroin, and a dose the size of a few grains of salt can be fatal.

The context behind fentanyl overdoses in Washington state

On a larger scale, the DEA believes that Mexican transnational criminal organizations “remain the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States.”

A previous uptick in fentanyl deaths in Washington was attributed by the DEA to an influx of tainted prescription pills from China. That was mitigated “substantially” by enforcement actions taken by both the United States and China on either end of the distribution chain, but illicit opioids remain a concern.

According to the DEA, there were over 83,000 total drug-related overdose deaths nationwide in a one year period between July 2019 and July 2020, representing a sizable increase from the previous year, where over 70,000 overdose deaths were reported.

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