THE BRONX — With thousands of Americans dying of COVID-19 every day, two other killers are lurking in the shadows of coronavirus headlines: methamphetamines and fentanyl.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recent health warning about meth, a psychostimulant, and fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that’s driving the record-high rate of fatal overdoses in the United States: 81,230 between June 1, 2019 and May 31, 2020.
The death rate has soared during the COVID crisis.
“Fentanyl is in the little packages that are sold out on the streets,” said Bridget Brennan, special narcotics prosecutor for New York City. “The concentration of deaths is worst in the areas of the city where poverty is the greatest. That really is the Bronx.”
Jerry Otero, a counselor at St. Ann’s Corner for Harm Reduction, noted there’s “at least a 25 percent increase in overdose deaths here in the Bronx.”
The organization’s CEO and founder, Joyce Rivera, blamed stress caused by job losses and social isolation during the pandemic.
“It’s a perfect storm,” Rivera said. “In the illicit market, you have fentanyl that has been running wild. And now you have COVID.”
“You have folks who were fine and then COVID hit, and they’ve relapsed,” Rivera added.
Ray Donovan, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York, said fentanyl seizures have soared during the pandemic, along with another drug that wasn’t really popular in the city: and that’s sounding alarm bells.
“Methamphetamine is a stimulant; it’s manufactured in Mexico,” Donovan said. “It’s readily available in Mexico, so they’re pushing that drug a lot more.”
Meth was prominently featured in the hit series, “Breaking Bad,” which focused on a high school chemistry teacher who went rogue, manufacturing the stimulant in his RV to make fast cash for his family.
Meth was previously popular in other states, including Missouri and Michigan.
But in the last year, meth seizures in the New York area, a hub for drug distribution, have skyrocketed 214 percent, according to Donovan.
“Some of the meth will go north, upstate, closer to the [Canadian] border; other meth networks will be all the way to Maine and others go to Ohio,” Donovan said.
Meth also has markets in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, South Jersey, and Philadelphia, Donovan said.
Donovan told PIX11 that when lockdowns shut down portions of the Mexican-U.S. border last year, halting flights and many other forms of transportation, “what the Mexican cartels did at that time was they stockpiled. And the prices started rising.”
With travel difficult, a lot of the fentanyl was mailed to New York and other cities in smaller packages.
He echoed Brennan’s concerns about the Bronx.
“The Bronx is absolutely getting hammered,” Donovan said.
And there’s worry about all the different kinds of drugs that are being laced with fentanyl, which is very cheap to produce.
When we asked Donovan if marijuana ever gets laced with the highly-addictive fentanyl, he replied, “We have seen small amounts, and that’s a scary thing as well.”
DEA agents and narcotics cops have seized more than $600 million worth of drugs in the last year, along with $170 million in cash.
And Brennan pointed out that cellphones are a valuable commodity when her cops hit a drug mill.
“The cellphones provide information in a packaging mill” Brennan observed. “It can help you figure out who is in the packaging mill. Our goal is always to move up the chain.”