We rightly worry about socialism, China, Iran, and recognized national security threats. One undeclared threat in every state is fentanyl. For too long, we have thought drug trafficking to be someone else’s problem. Wrong. Drug deaths around us are caused by ignorance and fentanyl.
Hard numbers sometimes fail to make the case, but here they are. More than 109,680 people died in 2022 from drug overdoses says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most were kids.
More than 1,500 Americans fall to an opioid, most illegal, most of those fentanyl, per week. More than 150 of your neighbors die every day from an overdose, most fentanyl.
Illegal opioids, chiefly fentanyl, killed 83,000 by overdose last year, but countless more died of drug-related car crashes, polydrug overdoses, and drug-related crimes. For reference, six million car crashes occurred last year, 55 percent tied to drugs, alcohol, or both, marijuana to fentanyl.
Sliced differently, illicit fentanyl is the number one cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 49, more than auto deaths, suicide, and cancer, the first two compounded by drug abuse.
Fentanyl is everywhere, even if you do not see it. The reasons are multifold – reduced law enforcement at the border, cuts in federal, state, and local counter-narcotics personnel, progressive prosecutors using race and politics to reduce enforcement, record drops in police recruiting and retention, drug legalization, and miseducation about addiction and overdoses.
Missing too are laws that will assist parents, teachers, civic leaders, counselors, law enforcement, and caring neighbors to get treatment assistance – in some cases compulsory – for those caught in a web of dependence, addiction and, sadly, destined for overdoses.
Nor is residential treatment – real and lasting care to get a person disentangled from addiction – readily available in many states. Short term efforts at detox, or lifesaving Narcan, are not answers; they are stopgaps, often local stops on a bus headed from life to death.
For perspective, the DEA reports that the proportion of all seized counterfeit pills with a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl has increased from 1 percent in 2017 to 60 percent in 2022. The number of adolescent overdose victims has tripled between 2019 and 2022.
And how many of these “pills” with a fatal dose of fentanyl has DEA seized? In 2022 alone, DEA seized more than 379 million pills containing a deadly dose of fentanyl– enough to kill every American, and every young American twice.
No region, state, county, or municipal jurisdiction in America – no hospital, emergency intake, law enforcement organization of any size, or school system in America is now untouched. None. The nation is awash in illicit drugs, like nothing we have seen before – and especially fentanyl.
Last year, the heartland’s Rocky Mountain “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” (HIDTA) seized over 5.8 million doses of fentanyl, compared with 619,000 pills a year earlier. Other regions reflect similar or higher acceleration of trafficker penetration – and resulting death.
Texas area Customs and Border Protection seizures are high and rising, cannot keep up with the traffickers without support. They have intercepted 328 pounds of methamphetamine, 140 pounds of cocaine, and 43 pounds of fentanyl since early 2023.
California officers seized more fentanyl than at any of the nation’s 300-plus ports of entry, and DEA’s New York Division has seized 1.9 million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills, a 152 percent increase from 2021.
City by city, town by town, the fentanyl misery just keeps rising. New York City suffered more than 3,000 fatal overdoses in the year ending July 2022 – 8 in in 10 deaths fentanyl.
So, where does this misery come from? How can we get control of it and get rid of it? The fentanyl comes chiefly from China and Mexico, both given a relative pass by the Biden Administration on shipping this poison into the US.
But the problem is deeper. National, State and local law makers need to stop pretending this is a non-problem, not their problem. They are responsible for the policy failure. Prosecutors need to stop letting traffickers walk. And every day citizens need to start demanding answers.
We need to up-fund international and interdiction programs, border efforts and state law enforcement, treatment and prevention programs. Leaders need to lead – get up and talk about this, be honest, We need to stop teaching drugs are “recreational.” They are highly addictive, and abuse – depending on the drug and time – is often the road to addiction hell, and un-survivable.
Maybe all these numbers numb you, and you will just shrug. But think hard on this. It could be your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, your own kids, their kids’ best friends, your neighbor’s kids, and it is your country, state, town, and community.
More than once this month, my phone has rung and a voice at the other end, perhaps because my life has centered on trying to help, has explained that another young person is facing life-threatening addiction, or has overdosed and been revived – usually from fentanyl.
Please listen to me. If your phone has not rung, it will. The nation is awash in drugs that are taking down a generation, slowly in some cases, quickly in others. Fentanyl is deadly. Second chances are rare. Our mission must be to lean in, get lawmakers see the enormity, and act.
In short, drug trafficking and fentanyl are now a major public health and safety crisis. But reality is bigger. They are a crisis for communities. They are a national security threat to the country.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.
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