International smugglers fueling the opioid crisis

International smugglers fueling the opioid crisis
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While the opioid crisis may be just another bad news story to some, it’s tragically touched countless Americans who have lost a friend, co-worker, classmate or family member.

After my half-brother Ricky’s death by heroin 14 years ago at the Jersey Shore, I swore to help ensure it wasn’t in vain by warning people about the dangers of “hard” drug overdoses. Back then local police tried to console our family by noting a “wave” of a couple thousand heroin overdose deaths across America that year, even including recent college grads in their low 20s, like Ricky. Well, now it’s a full blown tsunami — swamping cities, suburbs and rural areas alike. 

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As America’s drug overdose death toll reached nearly 64,000 in 2016 alone, we need a sustained effort from all branches of the government to stop international smugglers fueling the crisis. It’s a staggering statistic to consider with more U.S. fatalities than in the Vietnam and Korean Wars, and roughly ten times the combined toll from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

 

Though this national health emergency isn’t happening in a vacuum. No, it’s being pushed upon us by criminal networks principally from Mexico and China.

Despite well-intentioned crackdowns on legally available prescription drugs at the federal and state level, the opioid overdose death count still rises. Where there is a market, it will thrive — regardless of legality. While we can’t legislate morality, we can legislate tougher action to tear up these shadowy networks.

It’s time for Congress to step up and crack the whip against international smuggling rings.

To start, we need congressional hearings to investigate more effective ways to stop Mexican cartels, Chinese manufacturers and their business partners from bringing illegally manufactured and criminally obtained opioids into our borders. They’re flooding in via air, land and sea as fast as people can devour them.

In February 2018, U.S. federal agents and Boston police busted a shipment of 33 pounds of fentanyl trafficked here by Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, a drug empire better known for its former leader, Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán. Since the Drug Enforcement Agency reports that Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid with near immediate anesthetic, pain numbing effects can be 50 times more powerful than heroin, that shipment was enough to kill seven million people. That’s roughly the entire population of Massachusetts.

While legally available prescription drugs have faced a crackdown to include investigations via numerous congressional hearings on opioids, the drug cartels greedily see it as a business opportunity.

And thus knock off prescription drugs, like the so-called Mexican Oxy, are stamped to look like actual prescription drugs, but are often filled with opioids like heroin and fentanyl instead. Mexican Oxy has been found thousands of miles away from its manufacture, now turning up in places like Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Chinese fentanyl smugglers are working with Mexican cartels on U.S. distribution and must be stopped. According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China is a top global source of illegal fentanyl smuggling, both because their drug industry is poorly regulated and their package deliveries to North America are processed with minimal screening.

A 2018 Senate report showed some 500 on-line transactions from 43 states involving illegal fentanyl coming from China, simply using payments via Western Union, PayPal and credit cards. The bipartisan report from the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Subcommittee on Investigations led by Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE (R-Ohio) and Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards MORE (D-Del.) showed buyers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida led the way in most purchases. It’s truly a national problem that requires we tighten up the mailing and shipping process, along with pursuing more indictments against manufacturers and suppliers. 

While the Trump administration was right to declare the opioid epidemic a “national health emergency” in October 2017, Americans need more. All three branches of government must be firing on all cylinders to find the cure. 

Congress must put more emphasis on saving American lives, and less on partisan attacks. It’s one issue everyone ought to agree with, both inside and outside the Washington, D.C. We must remind Congress to find the political will and resources to get it done today. Countless more lives depend on it.

J.D. Gordon is a former Pentagon spokesman (2005-2009) and a retired Navy commander. He served as a senior staff national security and foreign policy advisor to three presidential candidates.