Drug overdoses are already costing the United States $1 trillion annually, which has seen the opioid crisis accelerate during the COVID-19 pandemic mainly due to the illegal trafficking of fentanyl, according to a report released Tuesday.
The figure, higher than the latest estimates, is highlighted in a report prepared by the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, made up of officials from several federal agencies, from Homeland Security to the Treasury, and lawmakers of different political stripes.
The White House council of economic advisers estimated in 2018 that the cost of overdose deaths amounted to $696 billion, but since then demand for opioids has increased, in part due to worsening mental health during the pandemic, and the numbers have worsened.
According to experts, since 1999 drug overdoses have killed one million people in the country and fatal overdoses are at record levels, with some 100,000 such deaths in the study year from June 2020 to May 2021 alone, or 170 a day.
Synthetic opioids were present in two-thirds of those deaths, which mostly involved young people aged 18 to 45, and the most common of these was fentanyl, a drug 50 times more potent than heroin, which the commission considers the “primary driver of the current epidemic.”
The report notes that the origin of the fentanyl seized in the United States has evolved since its expansion in 2014 and is now of very low purity and sourced from Mexico, where it is manufactured in illegal laboratories with raw material generally brought from China and crosses the border overland thanks to criminal organizations.
The experts directly allude to the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to whom they demand to do more against the threat that the cartels pose to the health and security in Mexico and the United States, and they reproach him for the incessant flow of precursors (chemicals) from the People’s Republic of China to Mexico.
The commission, which asks the government to collaborate with the countries involved in the drug supply chain, specifically China, India and Mexico, suggests 78 urgent measures to combat the crisis and considers essential “new methods, additional resources and the reconsideration of current interventions”.
In the 70-page document, the experts assert that synthetic opioids pose more than a national health emergency because they threaten national security and the country’s economic well-being, and liken them to a slow-motion weapon of mass destruction in pill form.