On December 6, 2016, DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg announced results from the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), which details the extent to which illicit drugs are affecting the United States.
Most notably, the 2016 NDTA continues to illuminate the nationwide opioid epidemic, which is fueling a growing heroin user population and resulting in a greater amount of overdoses. In 2014, approximately 129 people died every day as a result of drug poisoning and 61 percent (79) of them are pharmaceutical opioid or heroin related.
"Sadly, this report reconfirms that opioids such as heroin and fentanyl - and diverted prescription pain pills - are killing people in this country at a horrifying rate," Rosenberg said.
This opioid epidemic has been exacerbated by the national reemergence of fentanyl - a synthetic opioid which is much more potent than heroin. Fentanyl’s strong opioid properties have made it an attractive drug of abuse. Illicit fentanyl, manufactured in foreign countries and then smuggled into the United States, is a rising factor in the current overdose epidemic.
It is usually mixed into heroin products or pressed into counterfeit prescription pills, sometimes without the users’ awareness, which often leads to overdose.
The rise in overdose deaths also coincides with the arrival of carfentanil, a fentanyl-related compound, in America’s illicit drug markets. Carfentanil is approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine. The presence of carfentanil in illicit U.S. drug markets is cause for concern, as the relative strength of this drug could lead to an increase in overdoses and overdose-related deaths, even among opioid-tolerant users.
"We face a public health crisis of historic proportions. Countering it requires a comprehensive approach that includes law enforcement, education, and treatment," Rosenberg said.
The assessment factors in information from many data sources such as drug seizures, drug purity, laboratory analyses, information on the involvement of organized criminal groups, and survey data provided to DEA by 1,444 state and local law enforcement agencies across the country.