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June 2, 2021

Fentanyl and COVID-19

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more illicit fentanyl is flooding into the U.S. and the New York metropolitan area than ever before. Tragically, more people are dying from drug overdoses in New York City as a result. Every five hours, someone in the city fatally overdoses. The majority of these deaths are linked to fentanyl, a highly addictive and deadly synthetic opioid that is most commonly produced in clandestine laboratories in Mexico. 

As reflected in investigations by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office (SNP), fentanyl is thoroughly permeating the drug supply. In the first quarter of 2021, SNP cases resulted in the seizure of more fentanyl than in all of 2020 and over 70 percent of the total amount seized in 2019. Investigations are often in partnership with DEA New York Division and the NYPD. NYPD labs had reported 80% of heroin seized in the last quarter of 2020 contained fentanyl. 

Fentanyl production did not stop during the COVID-19 pandemic and mass shutdown. Cartels and large-scale narcotics distribution networks make substantial profits from fentanyl. Due to pandemic-related restrictions at the Mexico-U.S. border in 2020, fentanyl supplies were temporarily stockpiled. Once border restrictions lifted, large quantities of fentanyl moved into the U.S. and across the country to New York City.  

Skyrocketing fentanyl seizures by SNP are part of a nationwide trend. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees the U.S.-Mexico border, reports recovering more fentanyl in the first quarter of 2021 than in 2020, mirroring the results of SNP investigations. Fentanyl seizures by CBP have been on the rise since 2018.

Produced as a powder or pressed into counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids, fentanyl has saturated the drug supply in New York City. Fentanyl is frequently mixed with other substances such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. It is 50 percent more potent than heroin and 100 percent more potent than morphine. As little as two milligrams can be lethal. Unsuspecting drug users are at grave risk of overdose. 

Sadly, fatal overdoses are spiking across the U.S. In New York City, drug deaths rose by 35 percent in 2020, according to the most up-to-date data from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Many of the people who died unknowingly using narcotics laced with fentanyl. With 1,446 drug deaths reported for the first three quarters of 2020, the death rate is projected to continue rising. 

The Special Narcotics Prosecutors office continues to spread awareness about the deadly effects of fentanyl and works to protect the residents of New York City by prosecuting high-level traffickers and stemming the flow of lethal narcotics. 

Substance abuse and addiction assistance is available through NYC Well services. NYC Well is a free, confidential support, crisis intervention, and information and referral service for anyone seeking help for mental health and/or substance misuse concerns, they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Trained counselors and peer support specialists will give support, resources, and referrals as needed.