The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in November that during a 12-month period ending in April 2021, overdose deaths in the U.S. exceeded 100,000. According to that report, deaths from synthetic opioids were largely attributed to fentanyl.
American Family News spoke to Jaime Puerta, a resident of California and president of Victims of Illicit Drugs (VOID), who says the "more frightening" statistic is the fact that fentanyl is now the number-one killer of men and women between the ages of 18 and 45 years. In recent years, deaths associated with fentanyl have quickly outpaced deaths by suicide, automobile accident, and the coronavirus for that same age group.
Recognizing today's target audience for trafficking and selling fentanyl, Puerta considers children and young adults (ages 11 to 25 years) to be "the most overlooked segment of society." Sadly, Puerta lost his 16-year-old son, Daniel, to fentanyl poisoning in April 2020.
It's unfortunate, says Puerta, that people continue "looking through the old paradigm," broadly equating addiction to abusers of drugs. In fact, he says, many deaths associated with fentanyl occur in people who are self-medicating, recreational drug users, and first-time users.
"They're not stereotypical users," he tells AFN – and to the contrary, he says many are being sold counterfeit pills containing fentanyl in a deceptive manner. "And kids are dying – many … because they didn't even know they were consuming fentanyl."
While media "falls into the trap" of labeling fentanyl deaths as overdoses, Puerta contends the deaths should be described as "poisonings." Another misconception, he adds, is that pills are not simply tainted with fentanyl, but instead are the product of a deliberate effort "to straight up make counterfeit pills with fentanyl."
Targeting the young
Puerta points out that drug traffickers and sellers are targeting younger audiences, specifically by increasing their use of social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. And according to the VOID president, children are being deceived because "all the pills being sold through social media apps are counterfeit."
"Not only do they continue selling to people in the substance use community, but a whole new market [of a younger generation] has opened through social media," Puerta emphasizes.
AB 2246, a bill recently introduced by California Assemblywoman Cottie Petri-Norris (D), is attempting to tackle the fentanyl issue and more. The bill would establish special penalties for selling fentanyl in the vicinity of young people, including areas around schools and playgrounds.
The bill also enhances the punitive measure for selling illicit fentanyl online, identifies the illicit fentanyl made in Mexico and U.S. as a Schedule 1 drug, and establishes a 20-year to life penalty for any distribution of fentanyl that results in death.
AB 2246 will be heard before the Assembly Public Safety Committee this month. In the meantime, the California State Legislature is being petitioned to enhance penalties for the trafficking and selling of fentanyl.