- - Tuesday, August 21, 2018


President Trump deserves considerable credit for putting the opioid addiction crisis on the front pages where it attracts needed public attention. Opioids, or heroin-based painkillers, are a devastating blight on millions of Americans, producing a sense of hopelessness and sapping the energy and industriousness of the nation just as we’re on the wave of a major economic recovery.

Everyone who has studied the opioid crisis has learned that it’s a complex social as well as medical problem. Drug manufacturers, distributors, health care providers, physicians eager to prescribe pills and the government must all share in the blame for creating the crisis policymakers are now trying desperately to resolve. But to presume these are the only bad actors involved overlooks all the elements of the crisis deserving attention.

Credible estimates are difficult to find, but as a matter of common sense it’s reasonable to assume that Mexican drug cartels and Chinese-backed smugglers are taking advantage of the porous U.S. border with Mexico to bring their illicit poison into the country. The proponents of illegal-immigrant amnesty don’t like to talk about it — indeed they’re as silent as the Sphinx, but the opioid crisis and the illegal-immigration crisis are linking, as bad things often are. The president is entitled to a point or two about that, too.

According to new findings of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the growth in number of opioid overdoses in 2017 (up by 30 percent) comes not from prescription abuse but from illegal, dangerous, unregulated synthetics like fentanyl and knockoffs arriving from overseas. The most common of these is “Mexican Oxy,” pills made by drug cartels in Mexico that are stamped to look like the legitimate prescription drug but are instead laced with heroin, fentanyl, or both, and it’s much more dangerous than the real thing. These pills have turned up in New Jersey and Massachusetts. The pills seized in New Jersey were found to contain not oxycodone at all, but a lethal combination of heroin, morphine and fentanyl.

Focusing the opioid addiction debate on solutions that expand the federal regulatory regime for prescription drugs, as the president intimated in a recent tweet about “Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl” coming from China, means the problem won’t be solved any time soon. To keep this poison off the streets the president must rely on the same people he honored Monday at the White House, the under-appreciated men and women who make up the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Every time they stop a convoy of illegals trying to get into the country, they may be intercepting poison.

The domestic crackdown on prescription drugs has helped some, but it inevitably encourages the production and sale of illegal opioid alternatives. They’re trafficked into this country by criminal smugglers primarily from Mexico and China. Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, the criminal enterprise once led by Joaqun “El Chapo” Guzman, is driving the surge in fentanyl crossing the border.

The ICE campaign to stop the Mexican drug cartels and the Chinese smugglers must be put front and center in the opioid debate. The U.S. government must demand that the Chinese government step up to do its part in eliminating the production of synthetic heroin. It must apply pressure to the incoming Mexican president, who can’t be happy about the scourge of the cartels and the problems they cause on their side of their side of the border. China must examine its own regulatory regime to update drug policies and procedures for maximum effectiveness. Shipping by mail deserves particular attention.

Sad to say, U.S. law enforcement agencies are outspent and outmanned by sophisticated, billion-dollar criminals. To address the “national health emergency” that is the opioid crisis, shutting down the Mexican and Chinese criminal enterprise is the first step. Keeping it shut down is step No. 2. Instead of shutting down ICE, as some Democrats want to do, more money should be awarded to the drug-fighting agencies like the DEA and the Coast Guard. Killing the nation’s children, and keeping borders and streets free of peril, should be the first concern of the government.

The president’s frequent over-the-top remarks about this and that prevents his using the bully pulpit with maximum effectiveness. Congress has a responsibility, too. Brave talk about the severity of the crisis is not enough.

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