Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that in the past year, someone in this country died of a drug overdose about every five minutes.
It’s another tragic footnote in this nation’s struggle to rein in this escalating epidemic.
The number of overdose deaths rose almost 15% to nearly 108,000, based on death certificates the CDC reviews.
“Since COVID started, we don’t have enough physicians providing treatment for opioid use disorders,” said Dr. James Ledwith, opioid management consultant at the Massachusetts Consultation Service for Treatment of Addiction and Pain.
Most of the deaths were fueled by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, or methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant.
Last year, overdose deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids rose 23% to more than 71,000. Deaths involving meth and other stimulants rose 34%, while cocaine-related deaths increased 23%.
The lack of available treatment has definitely contributed to these fatal overdoses, but so has the readily available quantities of these illegal substances — the core of this societal problem.
And while CDC statistics convey a macro view of this OD epidemic, it’s the everyday illegal drug trade that provides the grist for these grim numbers.
The overarching reasons for these drug deaths — primarily access to fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine — trickle down to the street level in far too many communities across this country, as seen in the dispositions of two recent area drug cases.
According to MassLive, a woman from Orange pleaded guilty Monday for her role in a drug trafficking ring in the Fitchburg area.
Jessica Hughes was charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, along with 17 others in July 2020, according to a statement from US Attorney Rachael Rollins.
Hughes becomes the 13th person tied to the drug trafficking ring to plead guilty, Rollins said.
Law enforcement officials started investigating the ring after a fatal fentanyl overdose in September 2018.
The investigation found that Pedro and Anthony Baez worked with others to regularly distribute a fentanyl and heroin mixture and crack cocaine to accommodate living in the Fitchburg area, who then redistributed the drugs to others, according to Rollins.
Hughes regularly purchased the drug mixture and crack cocaine from Pedro Baez, Rollins said.
While investigating the ring, agents seized over 1.8 kilograms of a heroin-fentanyl mixture, over 3.6 kilograms of cocaine and 50 grams of crack cocaine, Rollins said.
Investigators also found a stolen, loaded handgun; drug manufacturing equipment; and more than $376,000.
Hughes faces a sentence of up to life in prison, a term of supervised release of up to life and a fine of $10 million for the combined crimes she committed.
White-collar criminals also play a role in the circulation of these illegal substances.
The newspaper recently reported that a Westford man was sentenced to six to eight years in state prison on a host of drug and firearms charges.
Westford Police Chief Mark Chambers and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan stated that among the most serious charges, Mark Garcia, 35, admitted to trafficking more than 36 grams each of methamphetamine and cocaine, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
In March 2021, police received several anonymous tips about Garcia, whose job as a pharmacy tech allowed him access to certain pharmaceuticals.
We know of at least one drug-related fatality in these two investigations; it’s reasonable to assume some of these pushers’ other customers experienced overdoses, perhaps fatal in some instances.
But we’re looking at a blip on the national screen of addiction, the sum of which provides the CDC with those numbing numbers.