AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, from April 2020 to April 2021, 100,306 Americans died from drug overdoses – the highest number in history – and the first time, that gruesome figure had topped 100,000. After drug overdose deaths rose sharply from 2000-2017, they leveled off and began to decline from 2018 to 2020, thanks in large part to Trump-era border and drug control policies. However, the effects of the pandemic reversed much of that progress, and now President Joe Biden’s policy of effectively open borders threatens to exacerbate the crisis to previously unimaginable heights.
Experts believe the widespread despair and isolation brought on by pandemic shutdowns were the primary causes of the spike in overdose deaths during 2020 and 2021. According to the CDC, “Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending April 2021, up 49% from the year before.” While deaths from the use of other drugs also increased, no drug in recent history has caused more deaths than fentanyl.
While there are many different versions, fentanyl is, by far, the most prolific synthetic opioid and the largest contributor to the record overdose rates. Most traditional painkillers (Opium, Heroin, Morphine) are known as “opiates” and are derived from natural plants like the opium poppy. Production of these drugs usually requires access to large fields of natural plants that can be harvested and synthesized locally. This is how drug cartels in places like Afghanistan and Central America produced these powerful and lucrative substances.
These new and deadly painkillers are not simply more powerful, but exponentially more efficient to create. Synthetic opioids are generally not made with plant matter, but are instead created almost entirely in a lab and “synthesized” with chemical compounds. As one DEA Agent told Science Magazine, “For the cartels, why wait for a field of poppies to grow and harvest if you can get your hands on the precursor chemicals and cook a batch of fentanyl in a lab?” As a result, even a small lab can create larger amounts of drugs that are far more powerful than their predecessors.
These synthetic opioids are overwhelmingly produced in one place: China. Under intense international pressure, China began regulating the production and prescribing of fentanyl in 2015, along with 116 other synthetic drugs. Yet, almost immediately, Chinese producers expanded production in “underground” labs, where more potent versions of the drugs are being created. These drugs were smuggled into America by hiding them in packages. Yet, as authorities cracked down on the practice, Chinese manufacturers began importing the drugs into Mexico, where they are then smuggled across the border by Mexican cartels. According to a December 2020 report, Chinese manufacturers have expanded their plant operations into Mexico so that the drugs can be directly developed in that country and more efficiently smuggled across the border.
It was in part as a response to this growing crisis that President Donald Trump enacted Title 42 in March 2020, a provision that allows the government to remove foreign nationals arriving from countries where there is an “existence of any communicable disease.” As a result, the federal government was able to aggressively crack down on drug smugglers – saving lives in the process.
But as Biden has eliminated Trump-era border policies, fentanyl has once again begun pouring across the U.S.-Mexico border and making its way into American communities. As illegal border crossings have surged to record highs, so too has the amount of illegal narcotics that border patrol agents seize – indicating that there is a far greater amount of illicit drugs that make it through border checkpoints.
At the same time, Democrats at the federal and state level have continued their soft-on-crime approach when it comes to drug trafficking. Just this week, two suspected drug traffickers who were arrested with $150,000 worth of fentanyl pills were released after a short stint in jail. Throughout the country, the story is the same: criminals are caught and then released to continue poisoning Americans.
At the same time, many liberal governments have inexplicably sought to “empower” safe drug use. Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have aggressively moved to destigmatize drug use, and their radical district attorneys have refused to prosecute open-air drug sales and use. By all accounts, they seem to be more focused on providing clean drug needles and safe injection sites than providing paths to rehabilitation. This month, the New York Health Department even released a series of public ads normalizing fentanyl use, touting slogans like “Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely.” The ads all suggest that there are “safe ways” to use fentanyl. Since the campaign launched, several health officials have blasted the department for suggesting there is a “safe” way to use a fundamentally unsafe drug.
There is no proof that this “harm reduction” approach is effective at curbing drug use. At the same time, the Biden administration has shown no signs of clamping down on the rampant illegal immigration that is a major contributing factor to the crisis. For the communities throughout the country being ravaged by the scourge of opioids – and facing down a looming recession – the results of Democrats’ failures could be more deadly than ever before.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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