- - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Trump administration has been aggressive in using executive branch tools to address the cascading opioid crisis in America. Hope remains that Congress may take additional legislative action this year.

But this crisis requires additional action.

This week it was reported Homeland Security is considering designating fentanyl as a “weapon of mass destruction.” This would be a wise step.

In a Feb. 22 memo, James F. McDonnell, Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, wrote: “Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack.”

Last year the FBI assessed that fentanyl “is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals.”



The National Institute on Drug Abuse says fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Illegal fentanyl primarily comes to the U.S. from Mexico or China and appears as a powder. It often leads to overdoses in unsuspecting drug users.

In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, as reported drug overdoses killed a record-breaking 72,300 Americans that year, a 10% increase from 2016. That amounts to more than the yearly death tolls from car accidents, gun deaths, and HIV combined.

Ask most Americans to explain why there is an opioid epidemic in America and they would likely blame prescription drugs.

But consider this:

From 2013-16, overdoses from prescription drugs remained flat for the first time in recent history, while deaths from fentanyl increased a whopping 520% over the same period, according to data recently published the Centers for Disease Control.

Illegal fentanyl is the urgent problem, not prescription opioids.

Opioid overdoses are still sharply on the rise. Mexican drug cartels and Chinese drug smugglers have flooded the U.S. with two incredibly dangerous and inexpensive opioids: fentanyl and counterfeit pills.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has near-immediate effects and is more potent than morphine and many types of heroin.

Counterfeit pills are made to look like legitimate prescription drugs and are produced with dangerous combinations of heroin and synthetic opioids, like fentanyl or its analogs.

Together, these synthetic drugs have produced harrowing overdose statistics.

The CDC estimates that overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids have risen sharply, while deaths from heroin, methadone, and prescription opioid pills have fallen. Around 75% of approximately 42,000 opioid-related deaths in 2016 were caused by illicit fentanyl and heroin.

Synthetic opioids have legitimate medical uses, but they must be closely controlled because they are extremely potent and easy to conceal.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that fentanyl can be 50 times as potent as heroin. Even the smallest amount — about 2 milligrams, or about 4 grains of salt — is deadly. Its chemical cousin, carfentanil, is even more deadly — just a single grain can kill. However, fentanyl is easier to obtain and transport than heroin, and fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs are widely distributed once they cross the U.S. border.

Changes to government policy and private sector self-policing have led to declines in prescription drug diversion and abuse, but drug cartels are flooding the market with deadly illegal fentanyl.

These illegal drugs are being trafficked into the U.S. from Mexico and China. Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, the criminal enterprise once led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is a driving force in the surge in fentanyl crossing the border.

In order to create a realistic, effective prevention plan, the focus needs to shift from frivolous litigation against drug companies and political grandstanding to ending the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S. while bolstering addiction treatment programs. Any litigation or regulation needs to address the real problem of providing care for those who have been impacted by addiction.

Law enforcement needs more support to crack down on illicit drug detection while medical professionals should be given the proper guidance and oversight not overprescribe opioids to patients.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, wrote the bipartisan anti-fentanyl Interdict Act signed by the president. That law will help stop the flow of illicit fentanyl across the border by equipping customs and border protection agents with scanning devices and other technologies that can detect synthetic opioids.

The urgent policy objective for the Trump administration now is ending foreign smuggling from Mexico and China and decreasing the senseless overdose-related deaths.

Our current opioid crisis is widespread and far-reaching, and it will not go away on its own. Chinese fentanyl smugglers and Mexican drug cartels must be stopped in order to safeguard the American people. Lawmakers have a duty to protect our nation’s health and safety by enforcing preventative measures and taking aggressive action against fentanyl. Drug smuggling must be stopped today, before we lose more innocent lives to this senseless tragedy.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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