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Stop ignoring China’s other killer export: fentanyl

As coronavirus infections continue to rise, the pandemic has remained a key focus of the 2020 presidential campaign. At the same time, another health threat has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives and has hardly been mentioned: the opioid crisis, which is being driven by China’s other killer export, fentanyl.

Too many families like mine have been devastated because of fentanyl, and important swing states like Ohio have paid too high a price from the opioid crisis for the presidential campaigns to remain silent. The federal government needs to admit that illicitly manufactured fentanyl is a weapon of mass destruction, and our presidential candidates need to tell us what they are going to do about it.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl emerged as a street drug in recent years because it’s inexpensive to buy, profitable to sell, and relatively easy to smuggle in from China, where most of it is made. This has had catastrophic consequences. Nationally, accidental overdose deaths — roughly two-thirds of which are caused by fentanyl or other synthetic opioids — are now the leading cause of death for people under 50 and the leading cause of injury-related death regardless of age. 

One of fentanyl’s many victims was my son, Tom, a young man with many wonderful attributes. Tom’s struggle began with a prescription for OxyContin to treat pain from tendonitis. He eventually became addicted to narcotics. Many subsequent treatments gave us hope for his lasting recovery, but that hope turned to sorrow when Tom died of fentanyl poisoning in 2015. 

During the pandemic, America’s fentanyl problem has worsened. So far this year, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths. In May, more Ohioans died of overdoses than in any month since at least 2006. According to the Associated Press, compared with data from the same period last year, preliminary overdose death counts through the end of August were up 28 percent in Colorado and 30 percent in Kentucky. Through the end of July, they were up 19 percent in Connecticut. 

The threat from fentanyl isn’t just to drug users and their families. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs endanger every American. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl is enough to kill an average person.   

To put this capacity to kill into context, just one pound of fentanyl could kill as many people as have died to date in the U.S. from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 alone, Customs and Border Patrol and Mexican authorities seized more than 5,000 pounds of illicitly manufactured fentanyl that had been destined for the U.S. 

Carfentanyl, one of fentanyl’s chemical analogs, is 100 times more powerful — and more deadly — than fentanyl itself. A lethal dose of carfentanyl is just 0.02 milligrams. Just one kilogram of carfentanyl has the potential to kill 50 million people, which led to Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell once describing it as “the perfect terrorist weapon.” 

The chemical weapon Sarin gas is recognized as a weapon of mass destruction by the United States. Carfentanyl, which is 25 times more deadly than Sarin, is not.

Illicitly manufactured carfentanyl, fentanyl, and other fentanyl analogs should be designated immediately as WMDs. Doing so would give federal agencies new ways to find and eliminate these chemicals and keep any more from coming into the country. It is hard to understand why the U.S. has not already taken this step. If we can go to the wall with China over TikTok, why can’t we do the same over chemicals that can kill millions? 

At the very least, we should talk about this active threat to our country at least once before this presidential campaign ends.

James Rauh is the founder of Families Against Fentanyl, which is fighting against illegally manufactured fentanyl. After his son, Tom, died of a fentanyl overdose, Rauh, of Akron, Ohio, founded Families Against Fentanyl to reduce access to the synthetic opioid that continues to take American lives.