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Fentanyl tops COVID, suicide, car accidents as leading cause of death in US since 2020

The deadly drug now accounts for the most injury-related deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.

CLINTON, Iowa — More people aged 18 to 45 have died from fentanyl overdoses than from COVID-19, suicide or even car accidents since 2020, according to the CDC. The tiny packaged drug packs a serious punch, now infiltrating the black market for drugs. 

Clinton Substance Abuse Council Executive Director Kristin Huisenga says it's a relatively new development. 

"I'd say maybe three years ago, we hadn't even really heard about it except for like in the prescription form," Huisenga said. 

Fentanyl was developed for cancer patients to target pain relief, but now it's used in other ways. Huisenga says she's seen it in all different kinds of forms. 

"It's showing up in any place that you could imagine," Huisenga said. "That's a really hardcore drug. I mean, it has very serious consequences." 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It's now the leading cause of injury related deaths across the country. 

"Our partners in the community have seen increases in the number of treatment clients. For example, I think that numbers over 20% increase from last year to this year, the number of individuals seeking treatment," Husienga said. 

Clinton Police Captain John Davis says it's not so much a drug used on its own. Rather it's laced into everything from methamphetamine and cocaine, to nicotine and THC vape pens. 

"These are street drugs being mixed by unprofessional people, and they never know, each dose could be different," Davis said. "And in each level you know how potent fentanyl is, if you get one dose that has a certain percentage, it could be deadly."

It's so deadly even just touching it is enough to cause a high. It's the reason officers don't conduct field tests on drugs. 

"If you open a bag of something unknown, you presume it's cocaine or heroin, and you inhale it, it could be lethal," Davis said. "And so officers have been injured that way." 

The unknown is what stresses both Davis and Huisenga the most. 

"The scary part is the unknown, even for our known users, because at any time, that could be their life," Davis said. 

To inform teens about the severity of doing drugs bought on the streets, Huisenga uses an analogy to show kids just how dangerous it is. 

"If you were walking and there was a glass of really ice cold liquid there, would you just pick it up and take a drink? Kids say no, we have no idea what's in it, but you said you would just take a hit off somebody's vape and you really have no idea what's in that. And that could be anything, right?" Husienga explained. "That could just be flavoring that's in it, or it could be nicotine, or it could be THC, or it could be any of these other things that we've talked about."

Several agencies now working together to tackle to mix-in drug on the rise. 

"We've got to have all these resources in place to really be effective. We can't do it alone in law enforcement," Davis said.

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