- - Monday, February 18, 2019


Opioids are flooding into the United States in such vast quantities that President Trump declared a “National Health Emergency” in October 2017. Yet, despite some tales to the contrary, the opioid crisis is literally manufactured in places like Mexico. China, too. In their factories, fentanyl and other copycat drugs are produced in staggering amounts. And they’re decimating us.

According to the Centers for Disease Controal and Prevention (CDC), from 1999-2017 almost 400,000 people died from an overdose involving opioids. On average, 130 Americans die each day in this way.

The CDC further states that the “most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the United States are linked to illegally-made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product — with or without the user’s knowledge — to increase its euphoric effects.” The crux of the problem is the smuggling of illegal opioids and other “legal” drugs illicitly copied and manufactured in China and other places. These versions of the “legal” drugs are then smuggled into the United States by Mexican drug cartels and sold in the United States at enormous profits.

Much like the famous “pizza connection” in which mob organizations in the United States distributed foreign-manufactured heroin throughout New York in the 1970s, today’s opioid crisis is a product of highly addictive smuggled drugs sold illegally by domestic criminal gangs. Fake fentanyl is the biggest and most lucrative product.

The director of health law and policy for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Emily Feinstein, argues that heroin has become the gateway drug for fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.

Quoted in Healthday, Ms. Feinstein stated, “Synthetics are cheaper than heroin to make, and we’re seeing them flood the United States. Drug dealers are cutting heroin with these synthetic drugs because it’s cheaper, and it actually makes the drug more potent. If you don’t know the heroin you’re using is being cut, the normal dose you usually take becomes deadly.” Although the “highs” are similar, the illegally trafficked fentanyl substitute is far more powerful and more addictive than heroin is. And much more lethal.

Ignoring these startling facts, many have blamed the opioid crisis and the thousands of annual deaths on legal painkillers being over-prescribed. This is incorrect. Rather, the flood of synthetic opioids smuggled into the United States is the real killer because of its much higher potency, cheaper price and far more readily availability than prescription drugs.

On Jan. 31, 2019, U.S. law enforcement at the southern border interdicted the largest fentanyl bust ever: 254 pounds of the synthetic opioid, enough to kill tens of millions of Americans, was found in a secret compartment in a load of Mexican produce heading into Arizona.

In 2016, synthetic fentanyl killed pop music legend Prince, who consumed the fake fentanyl in counterfeit pills that looked like Vicodin. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty succumbed to fentanyl the following year.

The gravamen of the problem is in the illegal importation of fake prescription drugs and synthetic heroin — not prescription drug abuse at home. The opioid crisis is hiding from a better public understanding in the shadow of this misperception.

The stories of Dr. Feelgood and his prescription pad are smoke screens blown-up to allow politicians to blame a target that they can get their hands on — and to allow unscrupulous lawyers to make billions blaming the wrong party and potentially collect huge awards in civil suits. Over-prescription has been a problem in the past, yet the root cause of today’s opioid crisis is entirely different.

The smuggling of drugs manufactured specifically for illegal sales in the United States is the crisis.

The actual killers are the foreign manufacturers, foreign traffickers and domestic dealers in the United States making a fortune off of the smuggled synthetic opioids consumed by millions of Americans and resulting in tens of thousands of annual deaths. Properly identifying the culprits will help put an end to the carnage and stop this sad chapter in our nation’s history.

• Michael Patrick Flanagan is a former Republican U.S. representative from Illinois.

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