Drug overdose deaths in the US have reached an all-time high, driven primarily by fentanyl use. And thanks to Trump's trade war, fentanyl may soon be easier to get than ever.

Drug overdose deaths rose 10 percent last year, reaching a record-high number of fatalities in America.

According to preliminary figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 72,300 Americans died of drug overdose deaths in 2017, more than any other year in history.

The increase in deaths was driven primarily by a spike in fentanyl and other synthetic opioid overdoses, the CDC reported. While the the increase in opioid overdose deaths had been driven in recent years by a surge in prescription drug and heroin deaths, this report indicates that synthetic drug deaths are now fueling the overdose crisis.

Synthetics are often found mixed in with other drugs like meth and cocaine, as well as anti-anxiety medications. Fentanyl, in particular, has frequently been mixed with heroin and other opioids to create a potent, more addictive, and highly lethal drug.

“Unexpected combinations of those drugs can overwhelm even experienced drug users,” The New York Times reports. “In some places, the type of synthetic drugs mixed into heroin changes often, increasing the risk for users.”

Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, meaning that it only takes a tiny amount to have a potentially fatal effect. In 2016, an estimated 20,000 of the total 64,000 drug overdose deaths in America involved some form of fentanyl or fentanyl-laced drug.

While the increase in overdose deaths in 2018 was seen across the country, the problem is most severe in states such as Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia, which have all seen double-digit percentage increases in opioid-related deaths.

On Wednesday alone, 25 people overdosed on opioid-laced drugs in the city of New Haven, Connecticut, in what may have been a single, highly potent batch sold to users in the area.

Despite pledging to combat the opioid epidemic, Trump has taken almost no action whatsoever to expand access to addiction treatment or life-saving harm reduction measures. His administration has largely treated addiction as a criminal matter, rather than a public health problem, and the skyrocketing rates of overdose deaths reflect the ineffectiveness of such a strategy.

To make matters even worse, Trump’s reckless trade war could actually make it harder to control the flow of dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl into the U.S.

Law enforcement officials say China the primary source of fentanyl, producing as much as 90 percent of the world’s supply. Until recently, there were very few laws or policies regulating fentanyl in China, but in 2015 the country added it to its list of controlled substances. This was considered a key moment for bilateral drug policy, resulting in a reduction in seizures of the drug in the U.S.

Then, in March 2017, U.S. and Chinese drug enforcement agencies reached an agreement to jointly address the threat of illicit fentanyl in both countries by taking steps such as cracking down on the shipment of the precursors needed to make the drug.

But now, with Trump threatening America’s relationship with China by jumping headfirst into a trade war, all of that progress could be lost — meaning that the U.S. could see a surge of fentanyl into the country just as deaths from fentanyl are reaching historic highs.

If the tariffs imposed by Trump become permanent, “it’s most likely going to have a negative effect on other areas” beyond trade, former DEA agent Jeffrey Higgins told USA Today.

“China could say ‘We are no longer going to cooperate with the United States on controlling these synthetic opioids,'” he added.

Trump made the opioid epidemic a central part of his campaign platform, promising to devote the resources needed to combat the deadly scourge. But instead, the very people he pledged to help may now end up paying for his failures with their own lives.

Published with permission of The American Independent.