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Fentanyl overdoses killing thousands of Americans: what’s fueling the rise?

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Nearly one million people have died of drug overdose deaths in the past two decades, but a growing majority of those deaths in recent years have involved dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl. 

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. First synthesized by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen as a painkiller in 1960, it proved to be a useful drug to help patients with traumatic injuries.

But it wasn’t until roughly the past decade that the drug made its way onto the black market and truly began destroying lives and communities across the U.S.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 108,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses between February 2021 and February 2022. Of those, more than 70% involved fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.  

One of the main drivers of fentanyl’s proliferation in recent years is cheaper production methods. Whereas other plant-derived drugs like heroin and cocaine need to be grown and cultivated, synthesized drugs like fentanyl are cheaper – both for producers and consumers.

“The production of (heroin) is expensive and time-consuming because you have to use the actual poppy from poppy fields. With fentanyl being a synthetic drug, you eliminate that process, and it’s much more lucrative,” a Los Angeles Police officer and drug recognition expert told Fox News Digital. “A legitimate 40-milligram OxyContin pill will be around $40 bucks. You can get these illicit pills, like the M-30s, for $10 or $15 bucks each.” 

The DEA seized 32,000 fake pills made to look like legitimate prescription pills on July 8 and 9. People overdosing on Fentanyl often think they are taking another drug.
The DEA seized 32,000 fake pills made to look like legitimate prescription pills on July 8 and 9. People overdosing on Fentanyl often think they are taking another drug.
Drug Enforcement Administration

The expert asked to remain anonymous because the expert was not authorized to speak with the media.

The officer, who has been on the force around two decades, has seen the drug affect rich and poor.

“I feel like fentanyl touches everyone. Because you have your different forms,” the officer said. “You have people that are just using it in the powder form – they’re smoking it off of foil – your transients in Skid Row. And then you have your big-name celebrities like (rapper) Mac Miller or (MLB player) Tyler Scaggs, who have more than enough money to buy whatever drugs they want, but they’re … unknowingly overdosing on fentanyl.” 

Investigative journalist and author Ben Westhoff, who chronicled the rise of the fentanyl epidemic in his book, “Fentanyl, Inc.,” said it wasn’t until dealers really realized they could make so much more money by cutting other drugs with fentanyl that it became sort of a supply-driven phenomenon.” 

“Nobody saw it coming. Partly it was that production methods got simpler. There was a new production method that was discovered,” Westhoff said. 

Westhoff traces the modern crisis back to 2005, when U.S. lawmakers were cracking down on methamphetamine in the U.S. The U.S. Senate banned over-the-counter sales of cold medicines that contained pseudoephedrine, which is commonly used to make methamphetamine. 

Subsequently, many of the backwoods meth labs scattered throughout the U.S. moved to Mexico. These labs, Westhoff said, evolved into “super labs” that received precursor ingredients directly from China, a relationship that continues today. 

Now, chemicals used to make fentanyl are almost entirely sold to Mexican drug cartels from China. The cartels then package the fentanyl into other drugs like Xanax and Adderrall, and ship them to the U.S. to be sold on the black market. Consequently, most Americans who die of fentanyl-related overdose deaths aren’t even aware they’re consuming it.  

This photo shows the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.
This is the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.
Drug Enforcement Administration

One of those many victims was Thomas Olrik Jr., who died of a fentanyl-related overdose at the age of 28. His mother, Mary Pratt-Weiss, told Fox News Digital her son had struggled with addiction in the past but was starting to get his life back on track and was enrolled in a rehab program.

“He started sharing and leading Heroin Anonymous meetings. He was helping a lot of people get sober. He was really an icon in the community. Everybody knew him, everywhere he went. He just always lit up a room,” Pratt-Weiss said. 

Olrik was also a talented artist and was doing well financially, selling his artwork at festivals. 

“He would do these huge murals while bands would be playing. And people would watch him perform painting,” Pratt-Weiss said. 

Things took a toll, however, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Olrik, who was prone to anxiety and panic attacks, took a turn for the worse. He died of an overdose July 19, 2021. Olrik’s autopsy report revealed he had Klonopin, a highly addictive drug used to treat panic attacks, and fentanyl in his system. 

“The fact that Klonopin and fentanyl was in his system tells me that he was stressed, and he probably just wanted to have a little something calm him down,” Pratt-Weiss said. “But I highly doubt he would have taken enough to OD if he knew what was in it.” 

Olrik’s story could have happened to anybody. That is why Pratt-Weiss, who is now on a mission to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, says the drug recognizes no race, class or gender. 

Suspects arrested in connection with trafficking fentanyl were linked to a transnational criminal organization known to smuggle drugs, authorities said.
Suspects arrested in connection with trafficking fentanyl were linked to a transnational criminal organization known to smuggle drugs, authorities said.
Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office

“I have a friend now whose daughter is addicted to fentanyl, and she’s gone through literally hell trying to get her into a rehab facility,” Pratt-Weiss said. “My neighbor behind me that just bought the house, they just lost a twin daughter to fentanyl in October last year.” 

Still, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. can stop fentanyl completely from coming into the country. All sources who spoke to Fox News Digital on the topic said there aren’t enough resources being devoted to the problem. In some cases, local authorities are even moving backward in terms of funding. 

“I definitely think we’re falling way short. We need to be treating it like COVID, an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Westhoff said. 

Despite a lack of resources, both Westhoff and Pratt-Weiss agreed that educating the public can go a long way in combating this problem. 

“Education is key. People need to be talking to their kids. They need to be telling them not to try anything. They need to be scrutinizing texts of their children under 18 (and) educating them in the sense that these things, even antidepressants, can be laced,” Pratt-Weiss said. “Everyone, sooner or later, will have somebody they know that’s been affected. I believed it’s super important right now for people to be educated.” 

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What Time Will ‘Riverdale’ Season 6 Be on Netflix?

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The season finale of Riverdale aired in late July on The CW. Notice we said season finale? Thankfully, the beloved series will return for a seventh season, but, unfortunately, Season 7 will be the final installment of Riverdale.

If you already streamed the current season, make sure to read Alex Zalben’s interview with Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on Decider. If you’re waiting to binge Season 6 on Netflix, well, you better clear your calendar because all 22 episodes are about to drop on the streamer. What time will the sixth season of Riverdale debut on Netflix? What time does Netflix release shows? Here’s everything you need to know.

WHEN IS THE RIVERDALE SEASON 6 NETFLIX RELEASE DATE?

Riverdale Season 6 premieres Sunday, August 7 on Netflix.

HOW MANY EPISODES ARE IN RIVERDALE SEASON 6?

The sixth season of Riverdale consists of 22 episodes.

WHAT TIME DOES NETFLIX RELEASE NEW SHOWS?

Netflix releases new episodes at 3:00 a.m. ET/12:00 a.m. PT.

WHAT TIME WILL RIVERDALE SEASON 6 BE ON NETFLIX?

Netflix is based out of California, so Riverdale Season 6 will be available to stream at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (3:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) beginning Sunday, August 7. If the clock strikes 12:00 (or 3:00 a.m. for folks on the East Coast) and you don’t see the new episodes, give it a moment, hit refresh, and then enjoy the show!

WILL THERE BE A SEASON 7 OF RIVERDALE?

Yes! Decider recently covered that very topic.

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Actress Anne Heche Suffers Severe Burns After Crashing Car Into Los Angeles Home

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Actress Anne Heche, known for her roles in such films as Donnie Brasco, Volcano and I Know What You Did Last Summer, was involved in a fiery car crash in the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles on Friday.

According to TMZ, Heche was driving a blue Mini Cooper and had first crashed into the garage of an apartment complex. Residents of the apartment complex tried to get her out of the vehicle but she backed up and sped off.

Footage of Heche speeding down the streets of her neighborhood had been obtained by TMZ as well as her initial encounter at the apartment complex.

In the first clip, you can hear her car crash towards the end. It has been reported that the actress crashed into someone’s home, causing her vehicle and the house to erupt into flames. Heche suffered severe burns and was resisting being taken away in a stretcher. You can also view footage of this via the TMZ article.

It has not been confirmed whether alcohol has been involved in the incident since her condition prevents doctors from performing any tests to determine if she was driving under the influence. She is currently intubated in the hospital but expected to live.

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These are the vulgar license-plate requests the DMV has rejected

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Stay CL4SSY, New York!

The state Department of Motor Vehicles nixed 3,752 requests for vanity license plates in the last three years because it deemed them too raunchy, radical or simply ridiculous.

New York’s personalized plates go for $60 initially, and then $31.25 annually for renewal. You can get any plate as long as no one else has it and it’s not offensive.

Odds are a request for a plate that marks a wedding anniversary or shows your allegiance to a team — like METS86 — will pass muster with the DMV gatekeepers.

Vulgarity won’t get you to first base.

So plates with the phrase LFGM — the acronym for Pete Alonso’s “Let’s F–king Go Mets” rallying cry — did not make the cut.

And you won’t see anyone driving around with the custom plates MILFDAD, AS5M4N and WLHUNG.

Crude meanings such as “MILFDAD” are unacceptable by the DMV.
Crude meanings such as “MILFDAD” are unacceptable by the DMV.
New York DMV
NYC123
New York state Department of Motor Vehicles denied more than 3.5 thousand requests for license plates deemed inappropriate.
New York DMV
“AS5M4N” was rejected for referring to “Ass man.”
“AS5M4N” was rejected for referring to “Ass man.”
New York DMV

The DMV also put NICEBUNS, FATFANNY, GOTAPOOP and BENDOVER in the rear-view mirror.

One player unsuccessfully tried to score the plate YESDADDY, to no avail.

The DMV also shot down such dark requests as DEADGIRL, GENOC1DE, S8TAN, DETONATE and MURDERM3.

“SUM8ITCH” is not allowed.
“SUM8ITCH” is not allowed.
New York DMV
The DMV thoroughly nixed a request for “CNNLIES.”
The DMV thoroughly nixed a request for “CNNLIES.”
New York DMV
BOOBIE is prohibited.
BOOBIE is prohibited.
New York DMV

Getting political is a dead end too — FJOEBIDN, FDTRUMP and CNNLIES were nixed.

LUDEDUDE, NARCO, GOT METH and BLUNT also went up in smoke.

Staten Island attorney Bill Dertinger said his blue 1995 Jaguar SJS was tagged with ESQLTD after his company and his 2014 Porsche had the plate GHOSTGTS because the sleek sportscar was white.

“The plates can make you stand out — which can be a curse or a blessing,” the 54-year-old Dertinger said. “Make sure you don’t cut anybody off.”

A man attempted to sneak in “YESDADDY” onto his license plate.
A man attempted to sneak in “YESDADDY” onto his license plate.
New York DMV
The DMV stopped a request for “FJOEBIDEN.”
The DMV stopped a request for “FJOEBIDEN.”
New York DMV
The DMV also rejects any license plates referring to politics.
The DMV also rejects any license plates referring to politics.
New York DMV

There must be a New York Jets fan playing referee at the DMV because a request for the seemingly innocent plate GASE was sidelined. Ex-Jets head coach Adam Gase had an offensive 9-23 win-loss record during his forgettable two-year tenure.

The DMV would not reveal who gives the final yea or nay.

“The DMV reviews all custom license plate requests and works hard to ensure that any combinations that may be considered objectionable are rejected,” said agency spokesman Tim O’Brien.

“GLOCKS” referring to guns is not accepted by the DMV.
“GLOCKS” referring to guns is not accepted by the DMV.
New York DMV
“FLYMOFO” is not approved by the DMV.
“FLYMOFO” is not approved by the DMV.
New York DMV

He said guidelines on what plate combinations are restricted can be found on the DMV website: https://dmv.ny.gov/learn-about-personalized-plates. Approximately 50,000 personalized and custom plates are sold per year, O’Brien said.

Bagged Tags

The state DMV has rejected 3,752 requests for custom license plates in the last three years because it deemed them potentially offensive. Here are some:

YESDADDY

FJOEBIDN

FDTRUMP

GLOCKS

FLYMOFO

BOOBIE

AS5M4N

BUDLIGHT

DEADGIRL

SUM8ITCH

GENOC1DE

S8TAN

CNNLIES

DETONATE

MURDERM3

MILFDAD

WLHUNG

Source: NYS DMV

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