BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Major developments in the fight against opioids as drug-related deaths are at a record high in Maryland. More than 2,000 lives were lost last year alone.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren reports that the Department of Justice is targeting Chinese suppliers bringing dangerous fentanyl into the U.S., which is often cut with other drugs, including heroine.
“There is no training, no preparing for losing a son,” says Todd Burke. Todd and Dorie Burke, parents of Thadeus Burke, are among a skyrocketing number of people whose loved ones have died from drug overdoses as the opioid crises surges through Maryland and the rest of the country.
The number of drug overdose deaths in Baltimore City was more than double the number of murders last year.
The maps below compare the number of nationwide overdose deaths in 1999 (top) versus 2015.
But two major developments could now reshape the opioid battle.
On Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the first indictments against Chinese suppliers of fentanyl, synthetic opioids 50 times more powerful than heroine being sold online and making their way to American customers.
“It came to my attention around January 2014 in Maryland that we had a spike in overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl, and we reached out to DEA and we developed a strategy to try to deal with the fentanyl problem in our community,” he said.
The second major development is fallout from an explosive 60 Minutes report that aired Sunday on WJZ. A whistleblower alleges major drug distributors knowingly shipped opioids unchecked to illicit pill mills. One in Kermit, West Virginia — a town of just 392 people — received 9 million hydrocodone doses in just two years.
Congress, allegedly pressured by those influential distributors, weakened the law that allowed the DEA to go after their shipments.
“We had been achieving incredible success and then suddenly it stopped,” says former DEA attorney Jonathan Novak.
Some members of Congress are talking about repealing that legislation. The representative who authored it, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA 10th District) was under consideration to be President Donald Trump’s new drug czar, but withdrew his name in the wake of the 60 Minutes report.