Opioid epidemic: Where are the drugs coming from and what is being done to combat the problem?
ARLINGTON, Va. - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan praised police and prosecutors in St. Mary's County for indicting six people linked to multiple overdose deaths in the county.
"While prevention and treatment are obviously two essential components, but we must also crack down on the criminals who are trafficking these dangerous substances and dealing in death," Hogan said.
But the opioid crisis is a nationwide problem. Even though President Donald Trump declined to declare it a national emergency, it is still a priority for his administration.
It is well known that heroin is extremely addictive and some turn to it after getting hooked on pain medications because it is cheaper and easier to get your hands on it. But an even bigger problem is fentanyl. Where did fentanyl come from and what is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) doing about it?
"It's like watching all of these people walk right off a cliff and then you walk right behind them and do the same thing," said Melvin Patterson, special agent for the DEA. "You cannot rationalize with someone that is addicted."
He said while heroin is often cut with fentanyl, some addicts are now looking to buy it straight. The pain reliever typically used for cancer patients provides them with a stronger sense of euphoria. There is also something on the market called carfentanil that is 100 times stronger.
"Packaged death - that is how strong and potent I find those substances," Patterson said. "Usually when we see lots of fatal overdoses in any particular part of the country, my first assumption is 'I'll bet you there is carfentanil in that.'"
Only two milligrams of fentanyl, similar to one shake of a salt shaker, can be deadly. For carfentanil, a tranquilizer meant to be used on elephants and other large animals, the amount required is even less.
Fentanyl was created in 1959, but it didn't get on the map with the DEA until 1991 when there were 126 fatal overdoses in Kansas. Then from 2001 to 2005, there were about 1,000 overdoses traced to a lab in Mexico.
In 2015, 53,000 American lives were lost to drug overdoses with 63 percent of those from opioids. That is about 144 people dying every day. Heroin and fentanyl are largely to blame.
The internet could be playing a huge role. Fentanyl has to be produced in sterile lab. Much of it comes from China to Mexico where cartels then bring it into the United States. But many dealers are also ordering it straight from China through the Dark Web.
However, in a joint venture last month, the DEA and FBI shut down AlphaBay - one of the Dark Web's biggest marketplaces.
"I can't talk much about it because it is very active, so I can just tell you they arrested the primary administrator of the website," said Patterson.
DEA agents working with China have now convinced that government to control fentanyl and its key ingredients - finally making them illegal to manufacture.
"I think towards the end of this year, we are going to see that was huge and that was significant, so my hat goes off to our colleagues and fellow DEA agents working in China," Patterson said.