‘Never seen anything like this before’: New factor blamed for fentanyl deaths

By J.M. Phelps

Rainbow fentanyl (Courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
Rainbow fentanyl

Although the huge number of drug overdose deaths in America saw its first slight decrease last year, fentanyl remains largely responsible for “poisoning” America, especially its young people. Indeed, for Americans age 18-45, fentanyl overdose remains the leading cause of death – thanks, experts say, to Mexican cartels, an open border … and social media.

Reported by the National Center for Health Statistics as the first annual decrease since 2018, drug overdose deaths in the United States reached 107,543 in 2023. This amounts to a 3% reduction from the number of deaths reported in 2022. However, in both years, nearly 69% of the deaths were attributed to the presence of synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl.

WND spoke to Keith Talamo, chief medicolegal death investigator at the Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office in Lafayette, Louisiana, who said fentanyl deaths have also been on the rise each year in Lafayette Parish with the exception of 2023. In 2015, he said, there were no overdose deaths associated with fentanyl. Eight years later, 66 of 108 deaths involved fentanyl.

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Having worked as an investigator since November 1999, Talamo told WND, “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” and considering the steady rise in deaths attributed to fentanyl, he added, “I don’t see an end in sight.” He explained that fentanyl is very inexpensive to produce, adding that “it takes very little to get addicted and very little to kill you.” According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a potentially lethal dose.

Adding an additional and extremely perverse dimension to what is already an unprecedented drug-death epidemic, Talamo shared that fake pills containing deadly amounts of fentanyl are increasingly prevalent today.

“The pills are looking like Adderall, or even Oxycontin, but they include fentanyl,” he said, adding that the dangerous opioid is being mixed with other substances to deceive buyers. “Fentanyl is being added to baby powder or baby lactate [formula], and it’s selling off as cocaine,” he said.

“For those buying drugs off the street,” Talamo warned, “they don’t understand what they’re getting.” The catch-22, he said, is that “if it doesn’t kill you, you’re going to get addicted.”

On the left, a lethal dose of heroin; on the right, a lethal dose of fentanyl (Photo: New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab)
On the left, a lethal dose of heroin; on the right, a lethal dose of fentanyl (Photo: New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab)

The ages of people dying from fentanyl consumption are “getting lower and lower,” he told WND. “While I’ve seen anywhere from a two-year-old to a 77-year-old die from it, it’s typically college-aged kids who are suffering from it.” He fears people will be dying from fentanyl at younger and younger ages over time.

Social media influenced

Regarding children who have never been taught about the dangers of fentanyl, Talamo said: “The worst thing a parent can say is, it won’t happen to their kid.” He added, “The hardest thing for a parent to say is, I wish I would have spoken to my child.” Parents need to warn their children about the dangerous and deadly effect of fentanyl, he insists: “It’s not like the old days where someone could experiment or make a mistake, because today kids are getting addicted or dying at a rate never seen before.”

WND also spoke to Derek Maltz, former head of the Special Operations Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who agreed. “One the biggest problem is that kids are not getting properly educated,” he argued. “Kids, teenagers and young adults are not paying attention to national news stories or mainstream media.” Rather, he said, “Many are watching video reels all day long on Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.”

According to Maltz, Mexican drug cartels are taking advantage of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of America’s youth in the modern age. He explained that the use of encrypted apps and social media is “a new mechanism for the distribution of their poison” that didn’t exist a few years ago.

“The world is changing, so we have to make the best use of technology,” Maltz told WND. To that end, he proposed the use of “powerful messaging by celebrities, role models and professional athletes on those apps.” By doing so, he said, “kids will see the dangers of substances like fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

Overburdened and underestimated

Even with increased awareness and parental involvement, Talamo suspects law enforcement agencies will continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of drugs flowing across the southern border. “With just the amount of production [in Mexico], we can’t keep up,” he said.

Maltz recognizes that law enforcement agencies are doing everything they can to combat the influx of fentanyl and other deadly drugs into the country, but like Talamo, he also questions their ability to sustain the fight against it.

“While there is positive movement, it’s not enough,” Maltz admitted. “More people have to get involved and the White House has to recognize this as a national security and public health emergency to significantly reduce the number of [fentanyl] poisonings.”

According to Maltz, the influx of deadly drugs into the U.S. through the years can be attributed to production, demand and impunity. With the use of human trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking operations, he said, the cartels are increasingly putting themselves in a position to “beef up” the production of fentanyl, as well as methamphetamine. As production increases, so does revenue, he said. “They’re also generating billions of dollars in the process,” he explained.

“Cartels also have a very good relationship with Chinese chemical manufacturers and brokers,” said Maltz. “They’re able to purchase and secure multi-ton quantities of the important precursor chemicals for the production of fentanyl.” Additionally, he said, “Chinese nationals are providing money-laundering services to the cartels.”

Increased production of drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine are sustained because “the demand for drugs in America is off the charts,” Maltz said. He attributes the matter to “mental illness, anxiety and depression that’s escalating throughout the country.” According to Maltz, “Americans are turning to drugs for relief, and in the process, they’re getting deceived to death.”

What’s more, he said, Mexican cartels are operating with impunity, having full control of the border. Combined with the open-border policies of the Biden administration, he said, “[U.S.] families and communities are facing the perfect storm of death and destruction.”

On the one hand, Maltz told WND, the reduction in fentanyl deaths in 2023 is the result of hard work by law enforcement to “take this poison of the streets.” But on the other, he said, “Narcan is also saving lives and has something to do with the declining death rates.”

For this reason, Maltz added that there should be an accounting of not only the number of fentanyl deaths across the country, but also the number of Narcan reversals.

“The death numbers are “not the complete picture”, he said, sounding a hopeful note.

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