The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced findings from the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), which describes the impact of illicit drugs in the United States. 

The NDTA contains a yearly assessment of the various challenges local communities face related to drug abuse and trafficking. The 2016 NDTA highlighted the ongoing opioid epidemic, which is contributing to the increasing number of heroin users and the amount of overdoses. Other highlights included usage and trafficking trends for heroin, prescription drugs, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and hundreds of synthetic drugs. 

The national reemergence of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in particular has played a role in worsening the opioid epidemic. Illicit fentanyl is made in foreign countries and smuggled into the United States. It is commonly mixed into heroin products or pressed into fake prescription pills without the users’ awareness. The DEA has described illicit fentanyl as a growing factor in the overdose epidemic. 

Related Articles

The emergence of the fentanyl-related compound, carfentanil, in illicit drug markets has also been timely with the rise in overdose deaths. Carfentanil is approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine and its strength could result in a greater number of overdoses and overdose-related deaths even among opioid-tolerant users. 

Additional findings from the Assessment include:

  • While there is evidence of a slight decline in the abuse levels of controlled prescription drugs, data indicates an increase in the seizure of counterfeit prescription drugs (many of which contain the extremely potent substance fentanyl). 
  • Heroin overdose deaths are high across the U.S., particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.  Nationally, overdose deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014, with the most recent available data reporting 10,574 people in the United States died in 2014 from heroin overdoses.
  • Deaths in the “synthetic opioids” category rose 79% from 3,097 in 2013 to 5,544 in 2014. While other opioids are included in this category, public health officials maintain that fentanyl is contributing to most of this increase. Fentanyl is sometimes added to heroin batches, or mixed with other adulterants and sold as counterfeit heroin, unknown to the user.
  • Methamphetamine continues to be readily available throughout the U.S., and methamphetamine distribution and use continues to contribute to violent and property crime in the U.S.
  • Cocaine availability and use in the U.S. increased across multiple fronts between 2014 and 2015 and is likely to continue increasing in the near term. 

For more information visit