Communities Across US Reel from Fentanyl Epidemic

ABC News' Pierre Thomas and ex-DEA agent Jack Riley discuss the epidemic of fentanyl-related deaths in the United States.
12:40 | 01/06/17

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Transcript for Communities Across US Reel from Fentanyl Epidemic
I am Pierre Thomas senior justice correspondent for ABC news. I'm joined by Jack rally former DA deputy administrator. Veteran of 32 years of the day. He and here we are today going to talk about the OP way crisis and specifically that. Happy to be joining you on abc.com and FaceBook. And this is a subject that. I think is one of the more important topics that we can discuss and this is a man here thank you give us some insight and Jacko when it first askew. How. And why did this OP would prices came to this point were last year or 2015 over 30000 people. Died as result. Is these drugs what I think is a convergence of a number of factors over the last. Ten tenors or yours personally you have I think what are the most sophisticated. Criminal organism patients we've ever see. In the Mexican organized crime structure that are reassembling the partnered with domestic street gangs. Hence the rise in violence to really put their drugs on the street. They the cartels I think it probably the largest research and development part of their so called corporation. That I think people realized so they saw this addiction issue coming. I also think law enforcement by itself is really the answer. We do have some witty or unwitting. Elements in our society I think turned line. And that's the pharmaceutical industry. And to assert that the medical professions do who do played a role in prescribing an understanding the extent of this. Jack let's let's hope the folks watching you know OxyContin. And drugs like that. Began to be abuse in. In the huge way and from what I'm told by some in your colleagues and DEA. The cartel saw as huge market and said. Hey we need to get involved in that market more and they start to increase to purity of heroine and all of a sudden we see. I think if you look back. 67 years you really saw the cartels making a tactical decision to and through the heroin market in the United States. And we saw it we've seen and we continue to seek increase in poppy production in Mexico. They're ability to perfect that process. And that's a natural progression. To fentanyl forty to fifty times stronger than heroin. Can be produced in a laboratory it's not dependent on the climate of the growing season cheaper and cheaper to make and they own it from start to finish. I think they went to school. During the methamphetamine issue. You know we largely. Legislated out the primary precursors for methamphetamine that was ravaging the country specifically the mid America and when we did that. The cartels jumped on the addiction that existed. And I think that was the first time that they really built a business plan. To look at the United States and its addiction problem and to try to control the market and I got to tell you that's what they've done. Over the last ten years and when you say forty to fifty times herald it would take a look at this picture. This is a lethal dose of heroin. And that's the legal bills. But we're talking Corning's that you so describe to people the the threat that law enforcement faces when they're going to do raids on pill mills and things I think it's it's increasing the important for everyone on the Strahan because I do think we see the bad guys now actually weapon rising fentanyl. In terms. Enforcement operations where our guys would do search once they would disperse battle in the air. To make our guys back out and they should back out but in this little vial if this became airborne. Or granules was to be robbed and absorb three years and it could be fatal. So we've seen it across the board an alarming factor we've NC. Many police canines who were used in many times in these investigation to detect drugs. Actually get a lethal dose of fentanyl it and go down. So as a result. When things are struck me when we get our Nightline project. Was. These. Hazmat suits at law enforcement. You know oxygen mask oxygen tank. Fully covered gloves the whole bit when you experience how difficult it is to operate. Imagine operating in that environment with the threat that may shoot shoe in that suit. And so where are asking our agents and policemen across the country to really enter into an enforcement operation. With risk we've never seen before. But you also have to look at what's rounds those particular but labs. I know in the Texas you guys covered in the great job but an enforcement operation in an apartment or. What if that's. Became airborne and was absorbed through a ventilation system. You literally could have every come every apartment on that for contaminated. Those are the rest and I and I just think people need to understand this is not going away this is extremely profitable for the cartels. And they don't care who dies if they could care less about that this is all about money. And I don't think we've ever seen the likes of a drug like this at least in the 3030 some odd years I've been on street. I want to come back to the numbers for a second and just talk about. 30000. Appeal and related deaths. In 2000. And a recent CDC report when he announced that. Paredes surge in deaths is to defend the question 2014. From the line. 5500. Of fentanyl related. Deaths. By 2015 we're talking over nine. The people and every day people are dying. You know it's funny I was. I gave it the speech and I was at Wrigley Field the night before watching my cubs went world championship and as I sat there. With some friends. Would a beer and hot dog I realize at Wrigley Field. Was not big enough to hold all the people that died of drug overdose in 2015. I cannot get my hands around and I just don't understand. White people don'ts really seize on the issue hotter over 120 people a day die of this. Are you imagine if entities but it in the numbers of a 120 died in floated up on the south border short holy cow it would be a national. Issue but still this issue. I just don't think he's gotten detention and should. And fentanyl is most deadly drug we've ever encountered on the street and I don't think people really understand. So education's important and I spent a lot of time up on the hill with congressman and senators and their staff. And it shocked me that they don't understand the gravity some will tell you you know Jack this is a national health problem. Others will tell you they think it's a national security problem because a criminal organizations in all its bowl. Now we were in New Hampshire. Small state. Have average is typically less than. Twenty gun related homicides here. 400 and some odd deaths when you're expected to get near. 502016. Was just ended. When you see people coming into some of fire stations that's one of the projects we know this when there. The steady flow of people coming. One man that struck me it looks like he could be anybody so he's shaking quivering. And we interview two. Women who nearly lost their lives. Two. Fentanyl news. Girls to extort. The income. That I it's I've never seen it worse. And let's not kid ourselves this is in every corner of this country it's in every town every neighborhood. To stick your head in the sand and think this won't happen in my town my family are in my community. You crazy. It is happening. And unfortunately it's heating I think walks of our society that people never thought would be involved in the drug trade little hair one. But now the worst of all types of heroin fentanyl so it's across the board it's going to require. They across the board solution. And it's going to take commitment from the government from the public from the media to get the word out from our educators our coaches and athletics are fit. Based practitioners. This is something this country has never faced. And it requires just as you said in your piece all hands on deck because there is no one piece of the solution. That's going to get this done by itself. I don't know you know sociologist but. I've been thinking about this question before you talked. What does this addiction need. With the coming he is it because of people war and economic depression. You're just trying different things to relieve stress what. Is it is a because of the way that OxyContin in those over the counter prescribe drugs were and it may seem more susceptible. There to do the drug yeah I also think too you know if you look at. People's perception of it being prescribed and it's made from a legitimate laboratory of people in white coats. And I go to this registered pharmacy and he gives it it's gotta be good. Right and and then that morphs into air went absolutely because they can't afford it. The doctor then catches up the pharmacist catches up and say wait a minute we have an issue what do they do. They go to the next cheapest hope Riordan. They take that long dark rolled down the heroin they deal with domestic street gangs were tied directly into the cartels. I mean this is the cycle it leads the violence done abuse. Used you name it it's at the root of that and I think people need to understand just how strong it is. And I know we don't have to us more time left but. I've done a series of these stories now. And one of the things of the struck me most. Is how it literally changed the lives. Of the people using. Heroin and now that. People stealing from their own families. One mother I remember doing story linked to heroin and she said. Madonna became so when she did not know the interview with young lady and I Nightline special. She talked about. Going from heroin to fentanyl. And saying if it cost her everything but her life it. That should be tenable that's what keeps me up at night I looked at the devastation. The families to communities to society the stress it puts on all the soulful services. And when we're futures for these people and I talk to parents all the time. Cops all the time. Parents who've had kids that have gotten control they tell me we had no idea we only knew as we are on our way through the emergency. For the overdose. So I think that's a part of I think our society that needs to get engaged and pay attention. Starts at the dinner tables watches what we doing our schools and on the street so. It definitely is a comprehensive problem and won't have to chip away at this I'm optimistic we're gonna make it. Can it be that he paid just 10 AM and is wondering if you give a little bit over your back what are we having accurate. How. He and Herman. We'll clear them. Professionals always been a synthetic heroin that's been out there for years very difficult to make. Used to treat cancer patient that salute that'd there is a legitimate need for fentanyl and its derivatives however. With the advent of heroin growth we're becomes cheaper. Much more pure and available on the street. The bad guys. The cartel. Will for no other product in which they can make more money and our expects. And that's where fentanyl. Really got its start where they could mass produce it. In Mexico and in China. And since small amounts of it and it could hit mistreated forty to fifty times I mean you do the math. If you take one gram of fat little and you can cut it fifty or sixty times you have fifty or sixty ounces available. You profit margin goes off unfortunately that's the economics. The way the bad guys look at. Well it's a serious topic. A frightening topic quite frankly and you thank you for taking time parts. Of Pierre Thomas CNN justice correspondent for ABC news take care.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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