Study Reveals Startling Stat on Synthetic Opioids

Seizures of pills tainted with fentanyl are up 50-fold in just 4 years
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2022 2:49 PM CDT
Study Reveals Startling Stat on Synthetic Opioids
This file photo shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills.   (US Attorneys Office for Utah via AP)

A new study led by New York University has a stat about drug seizures that speaks volumes about the nation's fentanyl problem: In the first quarter of 2018, authorities seized about 42,000 pills containing the highly potent drug, per the National Institutes of Health. In the last quarter of 2021, the number had ticked above 2 million—a 50-fold increase, reports NPR. As the Guardian explains, most of the seized pills were disguised by smugglers to look like legit pills, everything from Percocet to Xanax to Adderall. “These look just like prescription pills—that’s the scary part,” says study lead author Joseph Palamar of NYU's Grossman School of Medicine.

NPR notes that fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, making the risk to drug users a lethal one. “One pill that contains fentanyl literally can kill you," says Palamar. The research team says the risk applies not only to those who deliberately seek out and buy fentanyl but to those who buy other black-market drugs—for example, a college student picking up Adderall to cram for exams—unaware they are tainted. The study comes as the number of overdose deaths in the US has risen to an annual record 106,000 per year, thanks largely to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. (Read more fentanyl stories.)

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