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Prescription crackdown pushes opioid crisis to the streets, says doctor on Treasure Coast task force


Until 2018, fentanyl was mailed into the U.S. from China, but now it’s primarily transported across the Mexican border by cartels, says Dr. Kenneth Palestrant.

According to the Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention, more people between the ages of 18 and 45 died from fentanyl overdoses in 2021 than from COVID, car accidents, cancer and suicide, combined.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s killing people across the country, in Florida, and along the Treasure Coast.

Dr. Kenneth Palestrant, a leading member of the Treasure Coast Opioid Task Force, says this latest drug epidemic is effecting the region, just as it has the rest of the nation.

"It’s bad everywhere," said Palestrant, a Port St. Lucie family physician who has lived in the Treasure Coast for 30 years. “Seventy-three percent of the deaths that we’ve seen recently involve fentanyl," he said, citing data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "That’s a tremendous upsurge.”

Palestrant points to a case this past year when a drug dealer in St. Lucie County was arrested with about a pound and a half of fentanyl.

“Two milligrams is a lethal dose. One pound is 454 grams. One gram is 1,000 milligrams. So do the math. A pound and a half could kill a lot of people, and we’re seeing that all the time.”

The surge in fentanyl deaths comes at a time when it seemed as if the opioid crisis involving prescription drugs was waning. But Palestrant says the two are related. The pendulum has swung from the doctor’s office to the street.

"Because the laws in the different states have cracked down on opioid prescribing, what ends up happening is that a lot of these people who are addicted to the prescription opioids, and they’re not getting it from their doctors anymore, they go out on the street, and unfortunately the stuff in the street is contaminated with fentanyl,” he says.

Until 2018, fentanyl was mailed into the U.S. from China, Palestrant says, and now it’s primarily coming from Mexico.

“The Mexican cartels get the chemicals from China and they manufacture illicit pills. So it’s not just a heroin addict shooting up, no. There are so many outlawed pills out there that are manufactured by the cartels and shipped across the border," he says.

In 2021, the DEA seized 91 million pills coming across the Mexican border that contained fentanyl.

“I hate to say this, its chemical warfare against our country,"Palestrant says.

Copyright 2022 WQCS. To see more, visit WQCS.

Kevin Kerrigan