America’s opioid crisis has become a fentanyl crisis. While pharmaceutical companies continue to be hit with lawsuits and blame, the crisis has quietly evolved, giving rise to illicit and illegal operations that are the true drug threat today.
President Trump has recognized this and his administration is pursuing the international culprits who are feeding America’s addiction, in particular Mexican and Chinese sources. First Lady Melania Trump, for example, has made opioid addiction — with emphasis on fentanyl — one of the three focal points of her “Be Best” campaign.
In December 2018, China’s President Xi met with Trump and agreed to designate fentanyl-related drugs as controlled substances, meaning those in China who illicitly manufacture fentanyl and traffic it into the United States will be subject to maximum penalties under Chinese law.
Trump, however, has pressed China to go further and as part of the current round of bilateral trade talks is pushing to make this a death penalty offense. That reportedly would be done, but it’s one element of the U.S.-China trade agreement that still remains under negotiation. A stronger crackdown on fentanyl in general has also been labeled as a “sticking point” in these talks.
As always, the challenge is to turn pronouncements into reality and to convert promises of enforcement into fact. Those goals are not yet achieved.
Trump impatiently tweeted in August, “Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year. President Xi said this would stop - it didn’t.”
This has prompted pushback from Chinese officials who claimed Trump was improperly politicizing the issue.
While the formal details as part of the trade deal have yet to be determined, progress still has been made while the negotiations continue.
High-level Trump officials, including the heads of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Customs and Border Protection, and the Postal Inspection Service, went to Beijing in September to coordinate efforts with their Chinese counterparts.
In November, China proclaimed that it had convicted nine persons of an international fentanyl smuggling ring, giving life sentences to two and a “suspended” death sentence to one. The case featured cooperative efforts by China and American officials; both were featured in the official announcement.
Those are positive developments to be sure, but the problem remains massive.
While news media fixate on gun deaths, drug overdoses killed a record-breaking 70,237 Americans during 2017 according to the Centers for Disease Control, almost the combined annual deaths from both guns (39,773 — about two-thirds being suicides) and car crashes (38,659).
Of the drug deaths, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports 47,600 were due to opioids. Fentanyl was responsible for 28,466 of these, according to research from the American Action Forum.
Opioids come in many forms, but the most potent and deadliest is the synthetic drug fentanyl. It can be made from cheap ingredients in clandestine labs, but the bulk is being imported from Chinese manufacturers, often routing through Mexico.
The human cost is beyond calculation, but the White House Council of Economic Advisors recently estimated the financial consequences as “$696 billion in 2018—or 3.4 percent of GDP—and more than $2.5 trillion for the four-year period from 2015 to 2018.”
Trump is using these numbers to push Congress for more funding to combat the crisis.
This is how the White House describes its efforts:
“Part 1 is reducing demand and over-prescription, including educating Americans about the dangers of opioid misuse. Part 2 is cutting down on the supply of illicit drugs by cracking down on the international and domestic drug supply chains that devastate American communities. Part 3 is helping those struggling with addiction through evidence-based treatment and recovery support services.”
The crisis is huge but is not being ignored. Legitimate drug makers and the health care industry have taken important steps to correct the problem. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, meanwhile, have provided billions of dollars in grants to states for treatment programs. But a law enforcement effort with similar support is needed to disrupt the international and domestic drug rings that grow filthy rich by trafficking illegal opiates.
Shifting our attention and resources to the true drivers of the current opioid crisis is crucial to safeguarding our nation’s health and safety. Many of the pieces are now in place to accomplish this task, but lawmakers and the Trump administration must ensure we do not lose focus.
Ernest Istook says he's "in recovery" from serving 14 years as a U.S. Congressman from Oklahoma and 25 years overall in public office. Istook now teaches political science at Utah Valley University, the largest college in that state. Istook was a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. He also is founder and president of Americans for Less Regulation. Istook’s breadth of insights and experience include government spending, regulations, religious freedom, transportation, national defense, homeland security, healthcare, and everything in-between. Many of his abundant writings are available at his website, www.istook.com, and Istook holds a journalism degree from Baylor University and a law degree from Oklahoma City University. He is admitted to practice law in Oklahoma, Utah, the U.S. Supreme Court, and multiple other federal courts. He and his wife Judy have five children and 14 grandchildren. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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