FIRST ON FOX: A new Senate report is sounding the alarm about a surge in deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl among older Americans – as the U.S. continues to grapple with the danger of the drug, which is primarily smuggled in across the southern border.
The report, “The Silent Epidemic: Fentanyl and Older Americans,” is authored by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., the ranking member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging, and looks at the increase in overdose deaths among older Americans.
“Among Americans 65 and older, overdose deaths quadrupled across the last two decades, and there’s increasing evidence that synthetic drugs like fentanyl are adding to these fatalities,” the report says.
The report cites statistics showing that overdose deaths from synthetic opioids increased by 53% in a single year. Over 79,000 Americans 55 and older died from an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2019, with the rate of overdose deaths increasing from 3 per 100,000 in 2002 to 12 per 100,000 in 2021.
Fentanyl deaths have been plaguing the U.S. for years, with tens of thousands of deaths a year. Of the over 107,000 overdose deaths in 2021, 75% involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.)
Illicit fentanyl is predominantly made in Mexico using Chinese precursors and then smuggled across the southern border, both through the ports of entry and between them. Seizures of the drug by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have skyrocketed in recent years, which the Biden administration has said is due to better screening and technology that it has installed at ports of entry. But Republicans have said it is due to an increase in attempts as a result of the border crisis – meaning more of the drug could be getting through.
Overdose deaths come primarily from Americans unknowingly taking pills or drugs laced with fentanyl, which can be fatal in tiny doses and is 50 times stronger than heroin.
“Older Americans susceptible to overdoses on synthetics are often long-term, stable users whose drugs become infected by synthetics or people who turn to black-market prescription drugs due to cost or to supplement their demand for medication after being cut off from legal channels,” the report says.
It found that Black men 55 and older have an opioid overdose rate four times larger than the same overall same-age rate, and that in Washington, D.C., between 2017 and 2022, 72% of opioid overdose deaths were among older Americans.
The study says that information, research and data on substance use among older Americans is limiting, in turn affecting policy responses.
“This has led to prevention messaging for older adults that still reflects traditional concerns about prescription opioid misuse but does not focus on synthetics like fentanyl increasingly infecting drugs taken by older Americans,” it says.
“There is a pressing need to rethink how and why older Americans are impacted by substance use, reduce stigma, and raise awareness about growing substance use among older populations,” it says. “There is also a pressing need to address the fentanyl crisis at its source.”
The report recommends encouraging greater awareness among seniors, including making them aware that synthetics are extremely lethal and increasingly found in drugs like Oxycodone, Xanax and Adderall. It also says there should be more research and data to understand the scale of the impact on older Americans, including greater coordination between state and federal governments.
Braun, who has also authored legislation to impose penalties, including the death penalty, on drug traffickers, also criticized what he called a “minimalist border security policy” by the Biden administration.
“We often talk about fentanyl becoming the number one killer of young people, but it’s killing at every age. The silent epidemic of fentanyl flowing from our southern border is robbing our seniors of their golden years,” Braun said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
The report’s publication comes ahead of a committee hearing on the matter on Thursday morning, which will see testimony from experts and officials.
The Biden administration has touted its own efforts in cracking down on the fentanyl crisis, including investments in technology, recovery, prevention and greater cooperation with other countries to stop smuggling.