The fourth wave of the opioid crisis is crashing hard against the United States. Driven in large part by COVID-19-related lockdowns, both rural and urban communities have been hard hit by a recent spike in drug-related deaths.
In fact, for the first time ever in 2021, over 100,000 Americans succumbed to drug overdoses. The fact that almost 70% of these deaths were driven by fentanyl demonstrates the serious problem the United States faces with the illicit version of this synthetic opioid.
Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, and just two milligrams, or four grains of salt, is enough to prove fatal. Manufactured in laboratory settings, the supply chain often has the raw product originating in such facilities in China and then shipped to Mexico, where criminal cartels press it into counterfeit prescription pills, lace other drugs with it, or repackage it into smaller amounts for distribution. From there, these products are then smuggled across the border, where they are ingested by Americans from all walks of life, often unwittingly, with tragic consequences.
Take, for example, the story of Sammy Berman Chapman a 16-year-old straight-A student who ordered one Xanax off Snapchat, which turned out to be a counterfeit fentanyl pill, and was found dead in his bedroom. A rash of spring break overdoses in Florida this year tied to a bad batch of cocaine, which even ensnared a West Point football player, demonstrates how younger Americans are now dying from fentanyl overdoses in larger numbers. In fact, fentanyl deaths tripled among teens over the past two years. As one report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission put in, fentanyl is now “in everything,” demonstrating the reach and perniciousness of the drug.
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2019, 2,633 pounds of fentanyl were seized at the southern border. By 2021, that number had spiked to 11,200 pounds, enough for over 2.5 billion lethal doses. Year to date for 2022, 10,600 pounds have already been seized, putting seizures of the drug on track to surpass the staggering number of last year and suggesting that the flow of fentanyl into the United States is still concerningly continuing to rise.
But these numbers, while indicative of the broader surge of fentanyl into the United States, only account for what is being confiscated at the border, not what is sneaking through. As the security situation continues to deteriorate at the border, due to the policies of the Biden Administration that have encouraged mass inflows of illegal immigrants and have created a situation at the Border Patrol where “there is no morale,” the amount of fentanyl surging across the border is likely to, unfortunately, continue increasing.
Yet instead of talking about this significant issue, much of the recent coverage about the opioid crisis has instead primarily focused on lawsuits against the manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of prescription opioids. This fails to call attention to the primary driver of drug-related deaths in our country today and does nothing to help advance the law enforcement solutions that need to be undertaken to end this fentanyl overdose scourge.
A report from the Commission on Combatting Synthetic Opioid Trafficking found that the trafficking of synthetic drugs into America is “not just a public health emergency but a national emergency that threatens both the national security and economic wellbeing of the country.” This is as clear a wake-up call as any that something more needs to be done.
The attention of law enforcement officials ranging from district attorneys to beat cops must shift to prosecuting the cartels bringing fentanyl into our country and shutting down the smuggling rings that are peddling this poison on our streets. Big city prosecutors such as Larry Krasner of Philadelphia and George Gascón of Los Angeles, who have historically prioritized criminals over victims, must be recalled and replaced. Measures that have effectively decriminalized the possession of amounts of fentanyl large enough to cause almost 500 overdose deaths must be reversed. And most importantly, we must provide the brave men and women who are working to keep the southern border safe with the resources they need to accomplish their mission.
America has many years of hard work ahead of it to end for good the scourge of fentanyl the country currently faces. To begin this work, we must shift our focus and ensure officials in law enforcement are empowered with the tools needed to do so.