Wake up: Fentanyl deaths are exploding and no one is paying attention

Wake up: Fentanyl deaths are exploding and no one is paying attention

Publication date: Feb 22, 2019

How many deaths does it take to wake up America?

Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than traffic accidents. America knows we’re in the midst of an opioid crisis, yet one of the leading drivers of these deaths gets scant attention from reporters or elected officials.

Generically blaming -opioids” for our current epidemic fails to address root causes. While much of the media and congressional focus surrounding this issue to date has been on the role of pharmaceuticals in sparking this crisis, much less attention has been paid to fentanyl, the synthetic drug driving the spike in opioid-related deaths in recent years.

Fentanyl is taken by itself or as an additive to other illicit drugs, producing euphoria for users. But its immense potency (50 to 100 times greater than morphine) often turns euphoria into euthanasia.

As recently documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, -the source of the fentanyl is more likely to be illicitly manufactured than pharmaceutical.” It can be bought online and shipped via international mail and is also smuggled across the border in large amounts.

In 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdose deaths – and that number is rising. Since 2011, the slowest growth year of fentanyl deaths has been a 50 percent increase. As a result, fentanyl has now surpassed heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone as the most deadly opioid.

This is why policymakers who merely propose more regulations on pharmaceutical companies will never stem the epidemic of deaths. Ending the opioid crisis will require a larger crackdown on both supply and demand, including the lucrative trafficking from clandestine Chinese labs via Mexico.

The profits are immense for smuggling these tiny pills or powder. That is why last month’s report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy warns that fentanyl is a model for creating even more synthetic drugs:

Some leaders in Congress understand the problem and its challenge. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has convened hearings and explains the situation succinctly:

More members of Congress should follow Grassley’s lead and look more closely into ways Washington can help combat this deadly drug.

Greater resources are needed to inspect international mail shipments, as are international alliances with China, Mexico, and other involved nations to stem the illicit manufacture and smuggling of fentanyl. But unless we tackle demand as well as supply, traffickers will still produce these drugs cheaply and sell them dearly.

Despite well-publicized fentanyl deaths such as rock stars Prince and Tom Petty and pop icon Michael Jackson, the entertainment industry continues to glorify drug usage. A great many libertarians promote the cause of -legalize all drugs” in disregard of the great societal harm.

Well-intentioned public service advertising warns that opioids are highly addictive but focuses on avoiding misuse of its availability as a legal but restricted painkiller. Plus, overall anti-drug public service announcements, aimed at reducing demand for drugs, have dropped dramatically in recent years. Our elected officials in Washington would be wise to reverse this trend and make additional investments in a -heart and minds” campaign regarding synthetic opioids and their dangers.

Conquering fentanyl’s threat requires addressing demand for drugs, not only the supply. No matter how successfully lawmakers may choke the illegal supply of fentanyl, we will not completely be able to end the plight of opioid addiction until our culture recognizes that drugs that lead to euphoria can easily lead to euthanasia.

Former Rep. Ernest Istook worked on anti-drug efforts in Congress. He now teaches political science at Utah Valley University.

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