North Dakota, (KXNET) — Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. die from a drug overdose each year — that’s according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

According to the CDC, the nation is experiencing a drug overdose epidemic, and it continues to worsen in the United States.

Since the pandemic, drug overdose deaths have accelerated by 29.6 percent, according to drug abuse stats, and Native Americans had the second-highest rate of opioid overdose out of all U.S. racial and ethnic groups.

Mexican drug cartels are partnering with U.S. drug mules to distribute contaminated drugs to tribal lands. Federal, state, and tribal officials have been locking up drug traffickers, but they say another way to help stop drug trafficking starts with drug users.

Not every drug overdose goes on record, but according to stats, drug overdose deaths exceeded homicides by 300 percent in our country since COVID-19 and a majority of these deaths involved opioids like fentanyl.

There are drug trafficking issue happening in the state, and this has affected local North Dakotans and tribal communities as the state has became one of the main outlets for drug trafficking rings.

But according to state officials, there could, perhaps, be less drug trafficking if we could decrease the numbers of drug users in our state.

“People should never lose sight of the fact that there’s another side to this and that is the demand reduction, addiction reduction,” says North Dakota Attorney General, Drew Wrigley. “When you can chop off part of that demand by saving lives through mental health and addiction counseling and those types of issues you go a long way towards addressing this problem as well.”

While drug abuse is a problem all across the state, it’s most prominent on the reservations, killing more Native Americans than any other ethnic group in recent years. Illegal fentanyl is one of the most common drugs being used. Many who take the drug naively believe they are getting the real thing, but that’s not always the case.

“If you’re not getting these medications prescribed by your doctor, if you’re not going to the pharmacy and the pharmacist is not handing you the medication, everything else out there is fake,” says DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Rafael Mattei.

There’s no way to know if the drug is real or a fentanyl-laced fake pill which can kill.

Mattei offers an analogy: Say you have a bag of chocolate chips and you mix it in the batter of some cookie dough. There’s no telling which cookie will have more chocolate chips than the other — it’s the same with fentanyl.

“Our labs test the pills and they determine that six out of ten pills that they’ve tested contained a deadly dose of fentanyl. Which comes back to the slogan, ‘One pill can kill.’ You take that one and it’s gonna kill you,” says Mattei.

Which is why the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office has partnered with tribal lands in the state to help bring awareness and education to the reservations. This includes prosecutorial law, as well as addiction reduction resources.

“We will always be supportive as well. As I say, the mental health and the addiction services that will help us save lives, save futures, save dreams, of those who have become addicted to these poisons that have been peddled here in North Dakota,” says Wrigley.

Gov. Doug Burgum, along with First Lady Kathryn Burgum, who has been in recovery for over 21 years, provide resources for the public as well, as they hosted their seventh annual “Recovery Reinvented” this month in honor of Substance and Abuse Prevention month.

Kathryn Burgum says talking about the disease of addiction will reduce the stigma because stigma is a barrier that prevents people from reaching out for help and connecting to lifesaving resources and services.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a drug addiction, help is available for you. The Substance of Abuse and Mental Services Administration number is 1-800-662-4357.