The Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a “national health emergency” in October 2017.
This was a good beginning, but only just a beginning. That’s because there is only so much the Executive Branch can do without laws created and passed via the Legislative Branch. Otherwise, there’s no shortage of people within the Judicial Branch to throw up roadblocks to whatever the Executive Branch declares. Sound familiar? In sum, Congress must act — and fast — before countless more tens of thousands senselessly die across the 50 states.
My former colleagues in Congress and those who have joined since I left must start by recognizing that the opioid crisis is driven by weak border security.
The gravamen of the problem is in the illegal importation of fake prescription drugs and heroine — not prescription drug abuse at home. This smuggling of illegal substances is crippling our future. When compounded with our home-grown meth problem, illegal drug use is a problem of the first magnitude, and not one of tertiary importance. In 2017 alone, over 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Each and every one: a son or a daughter, countless brothers and sisters, even perhaps too many moms and dads to count.
The opioid crisis is hiding from public understanding in the shadow of this misperception.
The crux of the problem is the smuggling of illegal heroine and the “legal” drugs which are illicitly copied and manufactured in China and other places. These illegal versions are then smuggled into the United States by the Mexican drug cartels and sold in the United States at enormous profits.
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 fifty times more potent than heroin.
Quoted in Healthday, 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."
According to the CDC, overdose deaths from fentanyl and other opioids have quadrupled since 1999, including more than a half-million deaths between 1999 and 2015. That’s a rate of 91 Americans dying every day. The problem is even worse today.
Recently, the Council of Economic Advisers attempted to quantify the total societal costs of opioid overdose. It concluded that the true cost to society is close to $504 billion, with 15 percent of the total from nonfatal and 85 percent from fatal overdoses, representing 2.8 percent of the 2015 U.S. gross domestic product.
Earlier this year, the journal Pediatrics published a new study of opioids in children finding among other important fact that opioid overdoses in children nearly doubled during the past decade.
A problem of this size cannot go without Congressional action much longer.
Controlling our borders better must be a big part of the solution. Perhaps this crisis will break the ideological logjam in Congress and start us on the path to a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Perhaps, if Democrats in the House want to reach a budget compromise or start the discussion about immigration legislation with the Senate and the president, the epidemic of opioids may be the key. They might offer to fund the wall and an assortment of other border enhancements aimed at stopping the opioid inflow from Mexico. They may insist that the wall be built and re-designed towards that end.
By this, they will take “the Wall” out of the immigration argument by making it a part of the opioid crisis. This may lead to all manner of compromise on the hard issues surrounding border protection and comprehensive immigration reform and that would be great, but in any event, Congress must act on the opioid crisis and it must act this year.
The two subjects are immediately related and we can wait no longer for a solution simply because the politics are hard. In whatever form it takes, Congressional action is required to meet the opioid crisis effectively.
Michael Patrick Flanagan represented the 5th District of Illinois in the historic 104th Congress. Prior to his Congressional Service, Michael was commissioned in the United States Army Field Artillery. Michael and his firm, Flanagan Consulting LLC, have represented both large and small corporations, organizations, and associations. In 2009, Michael entered public service again with the United States Department of State in Iraq as the Senior Rule of Law Advisor on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Maysan, Iraq. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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