DEA embarks on new push to crack down on black market fentanyl

Push to make Fentanyl ingredients illegal

"Without a doubt, the seizures of fentanyl in the United States have gone up over the last two years," says Special Agent-In-charge Stephen Azzam.

Azzam says synthetic fentanyl is a serious problem across the country. Agents say drug dealers often mix the highly potent drug with other drugs, like cocaine and heroin.

"Heroin is bad. It's horrible for you and we've seen people overdose on straight heroin, but the fentanyl is what's killing people," says Azzam.

The problem has become so bad, that DEA now plans to classify illicit versions of fentanyl at the same level as heroin. The classification will allow authorities to prosecute anyone who possesses, distributes or manufactures the drug.

"A few years ago, as short as three years ago, almost all of our IV overdose deaths were due to heroin. This year, more than half of our overdose deaths are going to be due to either fentanyl or the multiple different synthetic fentanyl," says Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich.

Cvitanovich says fentanyl is so potent that he's seen people die with the needle still in their arm.

"It's up to 50 to 100 times more potent, which means a little bit of it can have a major impact on people," says Cvitanovich.

The DEA says the bulk of synthetic fentanyl arrives in the U.S. through the mail from China.

"These producers are trying to stay one step ahead of the DEA, and the law by changing the molecule here or there and saying this stuff is legal," says Cvitanovich.

"Any way you can think of to package and/or sell fentanyl, these traffickers are doing it," says Azzam.

The DEA says the new order is just the latest in a series of aggressive action it's taking to combat the opioid crisis.

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