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Media malfeasance: Rolling Stone laughs off fentanyl crisis it once feared

The warning about fentanyl from the 55-year-old magazine was stark: 

“The super-potent drug has been the leading killer of the opioid epidemic — now it’s finding its way into illegal stimulants, and the death toll is rising. …The combination is killing people: In New York City, for example, 37 percent of cocaine-related overdose deaths reported in 2016 involved fentanyl.” 

That was Rolling Stone magazine responsibly sounding the alarm about a new opioid called fentanyl emerging on the U.S. illegal drug market in 2018. As the piece, titled “How Fentanyl Is Contaminating America’s Cocaine Supply,” noted, the synthetic opioid is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. 

Fast forward to October 2022. Here’s what Rolling Stone has to say about fentanyl after several Republican lawmakers sounded their own alarm on opioid overdoses driven by fentanyl, the biggest killer of adults aged 18-49.

“No Treats, Only Tricks: Republicans Try to Ruin Halloween With Fake Rainbow Fentanyl Threat.”

The piece reads, in part:

“Halloween this year falls exactly 8 days before the November midterms, and what better way is there to drive home your tough-on-crime, war on drugs-electoral messaging than to convince parents that the cartels are in the house down the block and are handing out synthetic opioids to your kid?”

Rolling Stone’s snark and mockery was prompted by a public service announcement featuring several Republican senators warning parents of fentanyl disguised as candy being found in communities across the country. 

In New York City, for example, one person was arrested and approximately 15,000 fentanyl pills were seized, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The seizure was the largest to date. 

“Rainbow fentanyl – fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes – is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. To that end, the DEA recently announced that it had seized 36 million lethal doses nationally during a DEA operation spanning just 15 weeks. 

Rolling Stone is dismissing all this as hype. One must wonder whether this kind of tone would be applied if the president or members of the Democratic Party had aired similar warnings. 

“The PSA ended by instructing parents to implement (surprise!) the measures most parents already take when planning trick-or-treating excursions: getting candy from trusted neighbors, family, and friends, setting a curfew, trick-or-treating in groups, and checking your kid’s candy when they come home, usually just to steal the best pieces for themselves. Regardless, the only thing kids should expect in their Halloween haul is a well-deserved sugar high,” the piece concludes. 

It’s interesting that Rolling Stone doesn’t bother to mention bipartisan legislation recently introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the Stop Pills That Kill Act. The bill ensures “that existing penalties for possessing paraphernalia used to manufacture methamphetamine would also apply to possessing paraphernalia used to make counterfeit pills that contain methamphetamine, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues,” according to a statement released by one of the bill’s supporters, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). 

For its part, the Biden administration has been almost completely silent on the fentanyl crisis. And it is a crisis, because when an average of 300 Americans are dying every day of opioid overdoses driven by fentanyl, that deserves ample attention from leaders and the media alike.

The White House has earmarked $11 billion for national drug programs and agencies in its 2022 budget, which looks good on paper before considering that the overall budget is $5.8 trillion, making that $11 billion investment just 0.0018 percent of the total money spent.

The president has painted MAGA-Republicans as the biggest threat to this country. But the biggest threat to this country is fentanyl. Not just because so many people are dying from it, but because families and communities are being torn apart by the demons of addiction.

But given that fentanyl is manufactured in China and sent to Mexico before crossing over the U.S. southern border and into communities across the country, don’t expect Biden to rush down to the border to do a primetime speech (or any speech) to address something this urgent.  

Rolling Stone was once a highly respected publication full of outstanding journalism. In recently years, it has become not only extremely partisan, but also plagued by scandal.

Rolling Stone wasn’t in the business of endorsing presidential candidates until relatively recently. But in 2020, it endorsed Joe Biden for president, arguing that his platform offered “progressive solutions to every major problem facing the country.” 

Apparently “every major problem facing the country” doesn’t include the weapon of mass destruction that is fentanyl, all because a few Republican lawmakers decided to warn parents about the rainbow candy-looking version of it ahead of Halloween. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.

Tags Drug Enforcement Administration fentanyl fentanyl overdoses Joe Biden opioid epidemic Rolling Stone

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