Afghanistan’s opium production is at an all-time export high with a documented 9,000 tons produced in 2017, a phenomenal growth record from its humble beginnings of 100 tons a year in the 1970s. The war-torn country now qualifies as a narco-state with opium production dominating its economy.

China, a close neighbor, has been unofficially labeled as one of the top producers of synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl, a product 50X the strength of Heroin. This chemical compound has become increasingly easy to produce and deliver, most commonly through regular mail delivery systems.

These two contributing suppliers to the current US opioid crisis, have become further empowered by a third factor – innovative technology. From drones, to the dark web, to cryptocurrencies, a digitally enhanced silk road is delivering deadly drugs to the doorsteps of US suburbia.

The final component of this perfect storm is the rise of US addicts from all levels of income and walks of life.

The US Opioid Crisis in Summary

Over one hundred people in the United States die right now of an opioid overdose each day, leading to an economic burden of over 75 Billion dollars a year.

The short story of the sudden rise of opioid use and subsequent overdose escalation is that from 1999 until mid-2015, healthcare providers naively prescribed opioids for pain relief at ever increasing rates without properly studying the addictive nature of the compounds.

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The rampant misuse of prescribed opioids led to an increase in demand for heroin and the illicitly manufactured opioid synthetic Fentanyl. Patients needing continued relief quickly exhausted their qualification for prescription opioids and went to the streets or the internet to access their illicit fixes. This awakened trend in drug injection practices led to an uptick in cases of HIV and Hepatitis C.

With new drug trends, come new drug kingpins and methods of manufacturing, smuggling, and dealing. The age of the internet, coupled with the advent of smart devices, has not gone unnoticed by organized criminals wanting to both exploit demand and expand distribution.

The breakaway success of Fentanyl production

In 2017, over 40% of the 72,000 overdose deaths in the US were attributed to synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl. So where are the synthetic opioids being produced to not only meet the demand but drive it year over year?

The US has singled out China as a top producer and distributor of Fentanyl. With a chemical industry that boasts over 400,000 manufacturers and distributors, China has not been able to scale their regulatory protocols to identify and stop criminal activities. Moreover, ongoing variations in chemical compounds allow for illicit drug manufacturers to stay several steps ahead of regulation.

How is Fentanyl being smuggled into the US?

Surprisingly, the US postal service is being exploited as a “last mile” Fentanyl delivery system. Fentanyl in its powder form is easily hidden in letters and packages that enter the US from China virtually undetected when mixed in with millions of other deliveries each week. The drug packets often bypass middlemen and get delivered straight to the end user, who has in many cases ordered them online from either the “surface” safe web or the dark web.

In Part 2, you will discover the innovative technology being used to manufacture, smuggle and deliver drugs.

Here’s a sneak peek…

Along with common street corner and car delivery channels, comes more experimental methods such as remotely-piloted drug distribution in the form of drones. The evolving power and range of new drone devices drive narcotics dealers to exploit weaknesses at common dealing zones like borders, prisons and city neighborhoods.

Law enforcement agencies around the globe are beginning to experiment with their own counter-measures to combat criminal drone activity. It’s only a matter of time before formal drone squads become more commonly deployed in the US to catch the remote flying devices with tactics like nets or digital override methods.

When drones are intercepted and their owners caught, Law enforcement currently treats this type of drone-to-person illicit drug dealing as it would hand-to-hand transactions.

For more in-depth coverage of the crisis, read the whitepaper – Battling the Narcotics Crisis with Cellebrite Pathfinder

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