Four years ago, heroin accounted for 80% of the opioid seizures at the Mexico/U.S. border; as of 2022, it now accounts for only 7%. What has replaced the opioid seizures? If you have read my previous blog posts, you know the answer is fentanyl. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, fentanyl seizures at our southern border tripled (by weight) from 2021 to 2022. It may be surprising to learn that 20% of those fentanyl seizures were found on pedestrians crossing the border, often secreted on or inside the pedestrian’s body. Considering how potent the drug is, it is perhaps not all that surprising as a small amount can go a long way. The majority of Fentanyl seizures are in the form of pills or tablets. In the U.S. the number of people who fatally overdose on fentanyl is seven times higher than for that of heroin. Between 2015-2022, 325,000 individuals had died from a fentanyl overdose.
The fentanyl trade has been devastating to both the U.S. and Mexico. In my previous blog, I discussed how fentanyl has supplanted the heroin production in Mexico. While nobody should be crying over less heroin production, the truth is, fentanyl is far more deadly and dangerous and the end of heroin production in Mexico has displaced subsistence farmers who once tended the poppy fields and has made the cartels even stronger.
Heroin addiction has historically accounted for the majority of opioid addictions in the U.S., but that is no longer true. In the 1990’s until around 2010, when regulators cracked down, Americans were prescribed – and got hooked on – painkillers such as Oxycontin. When those prescriptions became harder to come by, the hundreds of thousands of addicts turned to heroin. The docudrama series “Dopesick” dramatizes this trajectory. The series depicts how individuals suffering from chronic pain eventually became opioid addicts. Opioids affect the brain processes-rewiring the circuity so to speak-and any attempt to withdraw from use of the drug results in intense physical and psychological symptoms. Thus, many who got addicted to prescription opioids but found in the late 2000’s, when those opioids came under scrutiny and tight regulation, that their doctor could no longer fill the prescriptions they needed, turned to heroin. A former DEA agent told a Reuters reporter that prescription opioid painkillers created the market that moved from heroin and now to fentanyl.