In November of 2018, the DEA released the results of the 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment. The 164 page report highlighted the threats posed to the United States by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs. The DEA’s acting administrator, Uttam Dhillon, said the assessment “underscores the magnitude of the nation’s opioid crisis and highlights the necessity of using all the tools at our disposal to fight this epidemic.”1
The assessment, which is done annually, is a valuable resource for all Americans amidst the crisis and especially important for those working on solutions (policy or otherwise) to counteract it. As such, we circled back to evaluate the key findings from the report:
Controlled Prescription Drugs
Controlled prescription drugs remain responsible for the largest number of overdose deaths of any illicit drug class since 2001. These drugs are the second most commonly abused substance; traffickers are now disguising other opioids as controlled prescription drugs to gain access to this market.
Deaths Involving Prescription Drugs
Deaths involving prescriptions opioids, heroin, and fentanyl accounted for nearly two-thirds of all drug poisoning deaths. Over 64,000 Americans died from drug poisoning in 2016; at least 72,000 died from drug poisoning in 2017, and the upward trend in drug poisoning deaths continued in 2018 (exact #s still unknown)
Illicit Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids
Illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are now the most lethal category of opioids abused in the US. Fentanyl is commonly available in the form of counterfeit prescription pills for illegal street sales and is also sold on its own, without the presence of other drugs.
Synthetic Opioid Threat
The synthetic opioid threat, consisting of fentanyl, fentanyl-related substances, and novel synthetic opioids, is largely fueled by foreign drug trafficking organizations—most synthetic opioids are sourced from Mexico and China.
Heroin-Related Drug-Poisoning Deaths
Heroin-related drug-poisoning deaths almost doubled between 2013 and 2016. This has been exacerbated by the increased adulteration of heroin with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. Heroin available in U.S. markets is primarily sourced from Mexico, where opium poppy cultivation and heroin production have both increased significantly in recent years.