U.S. Department of State Report: ‘Opioid Epidemic Demands Urgent Action’

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics released it’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report on Thursday, outlining that the opioid epidemic in America “demands urgent action.”

“The most urgent drug-related public health crisis within the United States remains the ongoing opioid epidemic,” the report outlined. “This long-developing epidemic, spurred originally by misuse of prescription opioids within the United States, is now increasingly fueled by heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, trafficked into the United States by transnational criminal networks.”

“Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in U.S. history, costing the lives of more than 33,000 people in 2015. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides,” it noted.

William Brownfield, the assistant secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told reporters during a conference call to discuss the report that most of the heroin entering the states originates from Mexico.

“My estimate is that between 90 and 94 percent of all heroin consumed in the United States comes from Mexico,” he explained. “My estimate is that a very tiny percentage now, perhaps as little as 2 percent to 4 percent, comes from Colombia. And the remainder, which might be somewhere in the 4 to 6 percent category, comes from Asia, the majority of that coming from Afghanistan.”

The majority of fentanyl comes from China and then into Mexico, Brownfield said, where it is then trafficked into the states.

“And it then becomes an exceptionally dangerous product in the United States, because fentanyl is 10-50 times as potent as heroin, and when the user does not realize that he or she is consuming fentanyl and not consuming heroin, the likelihood of overdose and death is extremely increased,” he explained.

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Brownfield advised that both Mexico and China have been willing to cooperate with American efforts to fight drug trafficking.

“Law enforcement cooperation with Mexico includes programs to strengthen Mexico’s capacity to identify, investigate, interdict and dismantle clandestine drug laboratories and disrupt trafficking networks,” the report likewise expounded. “In a welcome development in late 2015, China placed controls on 116 substances including a dangerous analog to fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl.”

However, “[m]uch work remains to be done in this area,” the Bureau admitted, “and developing compatible, consistent, enforceable international standards is crucial to successfully controlling this growing drug threat.”

The report additionally noted that while tackling heroin and fentanyl use remains a priority, cocaine is an increasing concern as cocaine-related deaths are the highest in nearly a decade.

“Coca cultivation in Colombia increased by 39 percent in 2014 and again by 42 percent in 2015 to 159,000 hectares, nearing record highs, and this surge in production may be having effects within the United States,” it outlined. “According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there was an increase in cocaine seizures nationwide between
2014 and 2015, and the number of overdose deaths within the United States involving cocaine in 2015 was the highest since 2007.”

As previously reported, just last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that drug overdose deaths have nearly tripled over a period of almost two decades, as an estimated 16 out of every 100,000 Americans lost their lives from an overdose in 2015, compared to 6 in 1999.

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