Stopping the fentanyl crisis demands policy changes at border, with China
More than 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the 12 months that ended this past October, with two out of three linked to the scourge of fentanyl almost entirely being smuggled across our Southern border.
Alaska, despite its location farther from the Southern border than any state in the continental U.S., has not been spared.
Over a period of weeks this past March, there were seven deaths and more than 20 overdose poisonings linked to fentanyl in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in what the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies as a “mass overdose event.”
A month later, in two separate arrests, our High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Forces seized 4,700 counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.
The 1,244 grams of fentanyl we seized in the first three months of this year is twice as much as we seized in all of 2021, when overdose deaths increased by 71 percent over 2020.
Those 1,244 grams are enough to kill 660,000 Alaskans, or about 85 percent of our population.
Fentanyl in powder and pill form is making its way to Alaska via parcel, carried on planes, boats and vehicles, or shipped over water. In one of the April arrests, the fentanyl reached our Southeast panhandle on a barge; in the other, it was mailed to an address in the Mat-Su Valley where two men from California and one from Arizona were arrested.
According to the DEA, fentanyl is coming here after precursor chemicals from China are mixed into powder or pressed into counterfeit pills by Mexican drug cartels. The cartels are clearly benefitting from the humanitarian crisis of hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to illegally cross the border every month that are overwhelming our Customs and Border Patrol agents.
The numbers don’t lie: after the Biden administration reversed nearly every policy of the previous administration at the border, illegal border crossings have surged and drug seizures have declined.
A 200 percent jump in fentanyl seizures at the border in July compared to June generated headlines, but overall drug seizures were actually down 14 percent for the month. Seizures of meth, cocaine, heroin, and “other,” which includes oxycontin and precursor chemicals, are all on pace to fall far short of 2021.
Just 1,500 pounds of heroin have been seized this year compared to 5,400 pounds last year.
We can safely assume this drop in seizures can’t be attributed to the cartels taking up other lines of work, especially as fentanyl poisonings keep setting records. On July 5, one million fentanyl pills were seized in Inglewood, Calif., in a bust linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.
State leaders are doing the best we can, and Alaska has teamed up with others to share intelligence to combat trafficking.
Like other states, we recognize this is also an addiction issue. We’re bringing to bear all forces we can muster through government resources and partnerships with nonprofit treatment centers to provide help and work to remove stigmas that can prevent people from seeking help.
But our powers are limited. States can’t punish China for sending fentanyl precursors to Mexico, and we can’t protect the border.
The states delegated our national defense to the federal government when we formed our republic, and the responsibility for securing our borders and defending Americans from deadly drugs crossing it lies solely with President Biden.
Unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, not even the cratering support for Biden and Democrats among overwhelmingly Hispanic districts that border Mexico appears to be enough to force a policy change.
Whether it’s for moral reasons to save American lives, or for cynical ones to save his party’s political future, President Biden has all the motivation he needs to reverse his disastrous policies on the Southern border and with China.
Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska.