The Opioid Epidemic and the Proliferation of Illegal Drugs

By Michael_Shaw 01/28/19
opioid epidemic, fentanyl patch packages

Opioid addiction is an orphan with many fathers, including Mexican drug cartels and Chinese smugglers. The sooner they acknowledge paternity—no, the sooner we hold these men accountable for their actions—the sooner we can reduce the number of deaths involving Fentanyl. The sooner, too, we can reverse the 520 percent increase in Fentanyl-related fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As much as we may want to ascribe blame to doctors and pharmaceutical companies for this national health emergency, overdose deaths from prescription opioids continue to decline. On the other hand, a flood of cheap—and exceedingly dangerous—opioids are on the rise: chief among these are Fentanyl, which is more potent than morphine and most types of heroin, and counterfeit pills, which contain Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Since Fentanyl is easier to ship and sell than heroin, it threatens to become—it already is—an epidemic unto itself. It is responsible for a 17-percent rise in opioid-related deaths in Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia. In New Jersey, the increase was 27 percent.

This crisis may have its origins abroad, but the catastrophe has its roots at home. Which is to say, new regulations against opioid painkillers make it difficult for doctors to prescribe and for patients to buy these drugs legally.

To the extent that these regulations have reduced the number of deaths involving prescription opioids, they have only made a bad situation worse; they have made it harder and more expensive for addicts to purchase FDA-approved opioid painkillers; they have unintentionally made it very inviting—and profitable—for violent criminals to sell what addicts want.

Hence the partnership between Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, formerly led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, and drug smugglers from China: a transoceanic union of killers whose common cause is the same as its currency, a killer drug—a drug that kills with abandon—which is small enough for border guards not to easily spot but strong enough (in 2 milligrams) to kill most addicts.

Consider, too, the seizure, in April 2018, by Nebraska state troopers of 118 pounds of Fentanyl. That amount translates into lethal doses sufficient to kill more than 26 million people.

Until lawmakers recognize the enormity of this situation, and unless law enforcement disrupts the cartels’ use of the U.S. Postal Service to distribute Fentanyl, this situation will worsen. 

Without the men and materiel to stop these smugglers—without ample means of detection—we cannot control what we cannot (as of this writing) contain. 

We cannot even control our airports and roads from this menace, not because we cannot outsmart the criminals, but because we lack the resources to act on the intelligence we possess. We know who is responsible for this international drug ring. We also know why it exists, and for whom it is a “lifeline” of existential importance: opioid-dependent patients, most of whom are in chronic pain and unable to get a prescription to alleviate their suffering. 

We cannot ignore these individuals, not when criminals make it their business to exploit and murder them. 

Aware of the challenge before us, and unwilling to retreat from the cowards who want to poison and kill us, we must defeat the cartels and their smugglers. 


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