The Ongoing Fentanyl Firestorm and the Unhelpful Gagging of Policy & Practice Possibilities

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In a recent opinion piece by Sam Quinones for the Washington Post – Only one thing will solve the fentanyl crisis – a number of valid concerns about this egregious mess were expressed, and possibilities for a way forward tabled, mostly geo-political. Again valid and worthy of pursuit

One excerpt as follows…

The trafficking world’s shift to synthetics is all about supply creating demand. Many towns and counties are at the mercy of this supply. Money dislodged from drug companies in lawsuits over their role in creating the nation’s opioid epidemic now risks being squandered on stopgap measures required by the urgency of combating these supplies — rather than being invested in the longer-term initiatives that might fortify communities to help people with addictions successfully recover.

There is nothing preordained about this situation. Rather, it is born of the impunity traffickers enjoy, which stems from deep and tangled corruption within Mexico combined with a relentless flow of guns, primarily assault weapons, easily bought in the United States and smuggled south.

Mexico sues U.S.-based gunmakers over flow of arms across border

In Mexico, the cost of that corruption is the annual slaughter of the country’s citizens and the corrosion of its civic institutions. In the United States, the price of those guns is measured in cheap and potent meth and fentanyl, available everywhere, deranging and killing Americans.

Mexican drug traffickers are technically not terrorists; they are criminal capitalists, albeit with an increasingly global vision. But the drugs and assault weapons that enable them are wreaking a more complete devastation in Mexico and the United States than any ideological terrorist could.

Many U.S. communities have found that local collaboration — involving a wide range of groups in anti-drug task forces, teaming up social workers and police, rethinking jail as a place of recovery — sparks synergies that lead to a more unified defense.

I believe this can be true of Mexico and the United States. How about starting with a sustained attempt to gain control of and regulate the supply of chemicals entering Mexican ports? How about a far more aggressive approach to stopping weapons heading south into Mexico?

These days, there’s a saying on U.S. streets: “Fentanyl changes everything.” It refers to illicit fentanyl’s transformative effect on drug production, smuggling, addiction, overdose and treatment. But my hope is that it will also change relations between the United States and Mexico — for the sake of people on both sides of the border. (For complete article go to Washington Post )

One would think all drug use prevention and recovery focused vehicles would be a significant factor in policy applications in any of the strategies for change being tabled. However, the policy ‘microphone’ seems to have been unceremoniously ‘secured’ by a emerging sector bully. This now amplified voice is increasingly indifferent, and at times adversarial to what is still best practice drug policy of demand reduction, primary prevention and recovery.

Options, advice and even evidence-based practice that does not align with this new mantra, is a best ignored – at worst impugned.

Reducing harm by maximizing prevention is still – on all health and fiscal metrics – overwhelming better than mere ‘damage management’.

If we are going to invest in saving lives, then we cannot ignore or worse impede practices and policies that would enable those enslaved by the tyrant of addiction to exit said drug use, not merely maintain a life diminishing ongoing engagement with these toxins.

However, reducing harm always starts with prevention – always. This includes logistical interdictions like ever diminishing, not increasing, trafficking routes. Genuine harm reduction also always seeks to separate the drug user from the agent of perpetual harm – the drug, in this instance, Fentanyl – not enable, equip or empower it.

The following commentary by Drug Watch International President, John J. Coleman is one such example of helpful but excised, opinion….

Harm Reduction always must have prevention as its priority

Where Is Our National Fentanyl Strategy?

Last year, for the third year in a row, fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. topped 100,000. The primary culprit was illicit fentanyl manufactured in China. The fentanyl is sold to drug cartels in Mexico where it is mixed with heroin or fabricated to resemble well-known branded prescription drugs like OxyContin®, Percocet®, Roxicodone®, and Xanax®. The fentanyl-laced heroin and pills are smuggled into the U.S. via our open southern border. To date, the Biden administration has shown very little interest in ending this deadly commerce that already has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans while generating billions of dollars a year for the criminal cartels in charge of a border that they – not we – control.

Don’t bother trying to Google our National Fentanyl Strategy. It does not exist. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy – the latter home to President Biden’s drug czar – have issued no such strategy. The reason is simple. To have any hope of making a difference, a national fentanyl strategy would have to begin by describing how smugglers manage to get tons of the deadly drug across a border that the White House continues to insist is “secured.” No presidential appointee is about to risk his or her job by publishing something that openly disputes this demonstrably false claim.

As required by law, last April President Biden presented his annual National Drug Control Strategy to Congress. The plan has a dozen chapters, but don’t look for the one on fentanyl. It didn’t make the cut. But a chapter specifically titled Harm Reduction did make it into the report. The chapter begins by defining this controversial strategy: “Harm reduction is an approach that emphasizes working directly with people who use drugs ….” For anyone wishing to see the results of this approach, it is in plain view in every major American city where the disease of addiction is facilitated in the twisted idea of reducing harm.

Last year, an estimated 2.3 million migrants unlawfully entered the country via our secured southern border. According to a DEA press release, enough fentanyl was seized last year “to kill every American.” In promising to step up the fight against the Mexican drug cartels, the DEA’s press release tactfully ignored mentioning the southern border.

Make no mistake: drug addiction is a serious, life-threatening, chronic condition. Treatment can be highly effective and even complete recovery is possible. Helping street addicts to remain addicted by facilitating and enabling their drug use is not a drug control strategy. Our failed experiments over several decades with misused and prevention separated harm reduction strategies have destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom died alone and abandoned during what should have been their most productive years. Our decaying and crime-ridden cities are further proof of this failure.

It is not too late to begin to turn this around.

First, we need to admit the obvious, that our past policies have not worked. We must implement specific diplomatic objectives in source countries like Mexico and China, focus law enforcement resources on identifying, arresting, and prosecuting criminal cartel networks at home and abroad, and, above all, we must ensure that our border security forces are sufficient in number and equipped with the latest technology to prevent the smuggling of people and drugs. Treatment policies that focus on restoring the addict or at least managing the problem should be supported over those that facilitate the disease. If we just do these things as part of a National Fentanyl Strategy, we will save many lives and, in the process, restore the beauty and tranquility of our once great cities.

– John J. Coleman, MA, MS, PhD, retired Assistant Administrator of Operations, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and current President of the Board of Directors of DrugWatch International, Inc.