'Nightline' takes an in-depth look at the opioid epidemic

A preview of the "Nightline" special "One Nation, Overdosed" with Pierre Thomas.
10:47 | 08/23/17

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Transcript for 'Nightline' takes an in-depth look at the opioid epidemic
Hi everyone on an are not here live in New York we have a very special preview for you now. A new report a special edition of Nightline airing tonight check it out and check local listings to make sure you don't miss that it's called one nation. Overdosed and it's an incredible look across the country and exactly what's happening with regards to the Pope the only crisis in America with us here in the studio. ABC's Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas who was the man behind this incredible report thank you so much for being here good to be with you. And this report is just incredible in its scope in its death. Tell me that how you guys when about digging into the crisis. Well we decided that we would take a snapshot look at seven days. Across this country. Because. What we've been seeing just anecdotally. From stories. And from data that we've been getting from the DEA and law enforcement has been of great concern. You have a crisis. That seems to be getting worse. The DEA and Justice Department just recently some numbers that's suggested that in 2016. Early estimates are that at least 60000 people died. Drug overdoses the overwhelming majority. Were from oak view it. Related deaths and they believe this was feeling that this crisis. And it is now. Been deemed. The deadliest. Drug epidemic in American history. And some of the numbers you've been hearing about are so striking I know attorney general Jeff Sessions testified that one American dies. Every eleven minutes of an overdose you mentioned and you've talked about this with your colleagues here as well that it. Just keeps getting worse and we don't quite know why. What did you find because you really went across the country if there's something specific to every region there is there's some one problem underlying causes here. It's it's a convergence of a number of factors number one Americans continue to overuse. Painkillers he. Then you have something very. And various and sinister happened. The Mexican cartels. Started to nose in recent years this insatiable appetite that the country had war. Who appeals so they decided to. Create there when that is much more pure. And make it cheaper. And as a consequence of that you can now. Smoke heroin initially were taken into. And that took away the stigma for some first time users who were afraid of needles but to dirty little secret is that over time many of those people end up. On the needles now you inject something called fentanyl which is a powerful painkiller used to treat cancer patients. And the cart you know Mexican cartel got involved and that as did some unscrupulous companies in China who have been shipping its EMC's. And the fentanyl is so toxic to the touch or even if you read it in you can cause an overdose so now you see law enforcement. Putting on bubbles it's like you would see in dealing with Ebola before they go into some crimes and that standard procedure. If they think that there's amounts. A fentanyl that are lying three. They could get on your clothing they will recommend that people put on those suits. How law enforcement officials together respond what is it that they thinking me in order to better combat the Couri. We just saw the president announced that he's going to make this a national emergency. The stroke crisis. So. You should expect to see more federal funding available. We were out with the DA part of what I did with especially as I went to Phoenix has been some time with the DEA. Fear. And just to witness how they're trying to deal with the the problem and what struck me about that is were out with them is they're tracking what they believe is a suspected drug ring. And where there as they make arrest in their for the confiscating. Drugs as they go throughout the process. And the headquarters. Would it make the final in key arrest in their estimation. Turns out not in some. Location that you would expect this to working class neighborhood. And all of a sudden DEA and the tipping police go in conduct this raid and they walk out with fifteen pounds of heroin. Valued at more than a million dollars. You in your teen reached out literally to all fifty states and the District of Columbia to report this out you partnered with an amazing network of our colleagues at ABC affiliates across the country to. What stood out he gathered individual stories do any of those kind of staying weak it's any surprise to you that you learned along. There are two images in stores as kind of hunting. One. Is involved a young woman. Who had a four year old daughter and her family thought she was re having connection would pill addiction. And seeing them overdosing dying Carol. Overdose. The other is a story where one of our producers is down in Florida. And a call comes in. Two and EMS workers she's wit. And it's about a woman whose overdose outside of a shop it's strip mall. And to see the care. And a tenderness. That the emergency worker. Uses in literally bringing that woman back from the brink. As she literally was on the break. Where they had to inject her with narc him to two to get her heart and give them breathing again. Was. Both chilling and and and and triumphant in the way because that worker did his job to help save. In the course your reporting you come across the story of ten year old. Alton banks have believe his name is as well tell me that story because fat one that he tells him to startling. It's. A bit of a mystery but does little boys. Goes to the swimming pool. Comes back home get sick. This later rushed to hospital and cuts. And the preliminary results is that if he somehow came in contact with fentanyl. And they don't quite know how. At least that's the latest reporting that we have. He's got. And you and it's still a mystery. Well you communicated with the families of course of those who lost loved ones come very close to losing loved ones on a personal level. Do people see that they are part of some larger national epidemic or or is it just. Because they're so in the moment this is really about family to family how they're struggling. Well well in the one woman the woman who died of the heroin overdose whose family thought she was due to them addiction. There's an emotional moment where her mother. Points out that. It's painful. But that she doesn't want anyone else to go through what she's going. And I thought that that was pretty powerful have to strain in your own grief. To be looking out for other people. And the one. Thing this that the only good thing that came out of it does have her daughter was or Purdue. Nothing you mentioned this is a seven day sort of scope. Right in July 17 the 23 avenue steps ends did you pick those dates for any reason at all. Any time. We do that and any time. And the numbers are so concentrated in terms. What were seeing and you know also spent some time. For the digital side of things without some foreign rescue workers in Phoenix. And their stories were. Chilling is well when we talk about case after case after case. With a reviving people. And they basically C you know in sight. But I think one lesson to draw from this is that we all have to bit to a better job of informing. The public. And I would hurt family and friends anyway to watch we're doing because. I think. Her the American public. Have a sense that something. Bad is happening out there and hear much about it right about the crisis over an outright but they don't really understand it is much closer than they think it. That the prescription. Drugs that you're using could be a gateway released some people. To trial here which is cheaper to baht and has a similar impact on the glory. To fentanyl and for some people once they start down this road we talked an expert yesterday never forget you said. These drugs cause a chemistry changed to the brain. That create the closest thing to the loss of free will. That he's. That. Is not because he's people or evil is that good or bad is it mr. brain is literally changed to crave and need what it means so badly. To the point where they start making just really court judgments. And some of the images that we we gather. Before we started our seven we. Period of time. Some producers found these images you know in the last year. And this year. Which you know are just striking one involves a man. Who's on a public bus and the bus this is C a surveillance camera and policy sudden news his best to look around Stevens looking. Slips in and injects himself with authorities but what authorities think was here when by Iowa on the bus. A public bus and then moments later you see him. Basically. Overdose and fall head first. Into the aisle and everyone's wondering what's happening. And that image is one that reminds you that this problem is reaching the point where spilling over to public. And there's so many of those images in this report some incredible reporting. For the congratulations. On this care thank you so much your being here for flew them. But today as well and thanks on you for watching answer all member you can watch that very special edition of Nightline tonight special report called one nation. Overdosed thanks for watching can you can always check out another deep dive online too good abcnews.com. Fax slash Nightline for now I'm on an optional see back here soon.

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

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