2018 DEA Drug Threat Assessment: Key Findings

By: John Cole

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Date: 01/09/2019

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.

You can find the full DEA report here. We’ll continue to provide pertinent information on the threat throughout 2019 on our blog. Follow along by subscribing below:






1. https://ohsonline.com/articles/2018/11/06/drug-threat-assessment-released.aspx


The information presented on or through this website is made available solely for general information purposes and is not intended to substitute for professional, medical or legal advice. We do not warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this information. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk. We disclaim all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on such materials.