By Joe Guzzardi
October 22, 2017
The United States is in the grip of its worst heroin and opioid epidemic since the post-World War II era more than 60 years ago declared the State Department’s International Narcotics Control Report released in March. In 2015, more than 52,000 U.S. deaths were directly related to drug overdoses, with the majority of those involving a prescription or illicit opioid.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioids and heroin, has quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Particularly vulnerable are residents in high poverty areas like West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Los Angeles County. New Jersey governor Chris Christie bleakly compared opioid-overdose fatalities to terrorist attacks, saying, “We have a 9/11-scale loss every three weeks.”
The Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Ambassador William Brownfield, told reporters that domestic demand for the narcotics is insatiable, and that the majority of synthetic drugs and 100 percent of all heroin are imports. Brownfield estimates that Mexico accounts for 90 to 94 percent of the heroin smuggled into the U.S. And indirectly, Mexico is responsible for helping to get highly addictive fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent, into wide swaths of the country. China processes raw fentanyl and then ships it to Mexico where it’s processed and trafficked north.
Brownfield praised China for its cooperation with the U.S. to control fentanyl and 130 other new synthetic drugs, but said little about Mexico’s willingness, if indeed it has any, to slow drug traffic.
The ease with which drug smugglers cross the border to enter the U.S., and the most effective way to stop them, should be a top congressional immigration agenda priority. Expert witnesses have brought the crisis to the Department of Homeland Security often enough to raise ongoing red flags. And some progress has been made, but far from enough. U.S. Border and Customs Patrol’s duties take them from the Southwest border to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, a vast expanse for agents to combat resourceful, well-funded smugglers.
Some argue that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall would be the most efficient way to slow the flow of drugs. Since, according to the American Public Health Association, the opioid drug epidemic has cost U.S. taxpayers about $78.5 billion directly and indirectly, even a modest drop in drug traffic would help pay for the wall. Tax dollars not subsidizing drug rehab could be applied to the wall’s construction.
But while wall prototypes are being designed, and congressional Democrats fight President Trump every inch of the way on his immigration agenda, more Border and Customs Patrol agents could be hired, and quickly put to work. President Trump proposed that a modest 5,000 agents be hired to supplement the existing 20,000 staff. In the name of public safety, and saving lives, Congress should get behind President Trump’s request. Instead, Mississippi U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the House Homeland Security’s ranking Democrat, said that he sees no clear need to hire and deploy new agents. Thompson must not read his own committee’s reports.
Drug addiction goes on and so too does business as usual in Congress. Anything President Trump says is immediately belittled, often from both sides of the aisle, even when he’s trying to save Americans from drug addiction and the deaths that may follow.
By Joe Guzzardi