Across this nation and in my home state of Texas, millions of Americans are grappling with the impact of opioid abuse for either themselves or their loved ones. While many people believe that the key to combatting opioid addiction is to curtail the abuse of prescription opioid pills, in reality, this is only a part of the problem– although one that must continue to be addressed by the appropriate state and federal agencies.
Today, fewer controlled prescription opioids are being abused due to law enforcement crackdowns on both clinics and physicians illegally prescribing these drugs and efforts by healthcare professionals to ensure that these medicines are correctly prescribed.
Regrettably, despite these efforts by law enforcement and conscientious medical professionals, opioid overdoses continue to be on the rise in the United States. Recently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released data which found that opioid overdoses increased by 30% in 2017. The CDC also found that this increase in overdoses was not due to prescription painkillers, but rather by illegal synthetic opioids.
Today, both Mexican cartels and Chinese drug smugglers are flooding the nation with highly addictive, deadly and inexpensive alternatives to prescription opioids: fentanyl and counterfeit pills. Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, the criminal enterprise once led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, is a driving force in the surge in fentanyl crossing the border.
The facts about the dangers of fentanyl would scare anyone who has been impacted by the scourge of opioid abuse. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports that fentanyl can be 50 times more potent than heroin, and even the smallest amount – about 2 milligrams, or the equivalent to 4 grains of salt – can kill an adult.
Earlier this year, law enforcement in Boston confiscated 33 pounds of fentanyl. To put this in perspective, consider the comments of the District Attorney Daniel Conley: “Individuals who buy and sell at this level aren’t users…They’re not small-time dealers, either. They’re certainly not selling to support a habit. They’re trafficking in addictive substances that claim more lives in Massachusetts than all homicides, all suicides, and all car crashes, statewide, combined.” In fact, the Boston Herald quoted a law enforcement source who said that the 33 pounds of confiscated fentanyl is enough to kill more than 7 million people — greater than the entire population of Massachusetts.
Another way to view the scope of this problem, is that according to US Customs and Border Protection, machines used to make counterfeit pills are being confiscated at the US/Mexican border at rates 19 times higher in 2017 than in 2011. Demand for these machines is exploding because drug dealers in the US are buying illicit fentanyl from China and Mexico and then using those machines to manufacture counterfeit pills that look like real prescription opioid drugs. Sadly, unsuspecting drug users ingest these pills seeking a high, and sometimes pay with their lives.
The importation of fentanyl from China is so pervasive and unregulated, that according to a recent report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission: “Many Chinese narcotic distributors will guarantee customers a second shipment if the first is seized by law enforcement.” This level of brazenness means that these criminals in China seemingly have no fear of any legal, criminal or financial retribution for exporting this poison into the United States.
There is no question, that Congress and the White House are aware of the opioid problem facing our nation. The President himself has called for some drug sellers to face the death penalty. Congress is also looking at the issue.
I believe more needs to be done on the matter of these illicit opioids entering the country. Both leaders on Capitol Hill, and inside the Trump administration, should devote more resources to controlling these entry points from both Mexico and China. Failure to do will only mean that more Americans die every year from taking these readily available, but deadly alternatives to prescription opioids.
Neugebauer represented Texas’ 19th Congressional District from 2003 – 2017
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.