With little fanfare, President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE is cracking down on the driving force behind the opioid epidemic, which has become one of the greatest tragedies in our history. The carnage is breathtaking. Between 1999 and 2017, about 430,000 Americans have fatally overdosed on prescription and illicit opioids. That is more than all the United States military deaths during World War II. Over the last few years, the rate of drug overdose deaths has accelerated to the point where we now lose as many lives every year as we did during the entire span of the Vietnam War.
Yet, the epidemic is largely invisible. There are no “mass overdoses” to dominate a news cycle nor any singular moments of national tragedy. There are just abstract statistics representing millions of broken lives and thousands of ruined communities. Like the crisis itself, the battle to contain it and the success we have made in turning the tide are difficult to see. There are no resounding victories that make for easy headlines. There is only, and can only be, steady progress and persistent effort.
Even if there are no blaring frontpage headlines, we have turned a corner. We have broken the back of the worst drug epidemic in our history, and one day we can look back on 2017 as the high water mark where the opioid wave finally began to recede. The data for 2018 are not final yet, but it appears that we achieved the first nationwide drop in opioid overdose deaths since 2013, when the introduction and proliferation of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids triggered the worst phase.
Drug dealers use these new much stronger drugs to pad their profits by mixing them with less potent opioids such as heroin. Since fentanyl is 50 times to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and most users are unaware that their drugs have been adulterated with it, this has led to a dramatic spike in overdose deaths. Targeting the illicit sale of fentanyl saves lives, which is why President Trump has been so insistent about demanding that China ban the production and exportation of fentanyl.
Despite the inhumane refusal of Beijing to help, we scored a great victory in this war with nary a headline when the Mexican Navy intercepted more than 25 tons of Chinese fentanyl destined for the United States. Days later, law enforcement in Virginia seized more than 60 pounds of fentanyl shipped from Chinese labs, enough to kill 14 million Americans.
The seizures are a sign of a bigger shift in policy that allows us to make progress in the fight against fentanyl even without Chinese cooperation. Our own Drug Enforcement Administration is reporting dramatically increased fentanyl seizures, as is Customs and Border Protection, which made its own record bust of fentanyl earlier this year in Arizona.
This is not just business as usual “drug war” stuff. It is the product of painstaking efforts to target the new conditions, such as cheap and widely available Chinese fentanyl, that have led to so many deaths of Americans in recent years. That commitment to keeping Americans across the country alive comes straight from the top. President Trump, dating all the way back to his campaign, has made fighting the drug epidemic a central policy plank of his leadership. He has prevailed against extraordinary opposition to provide the additional resources we have desperately needed to secure the border and combat the threat of fentanyl.
President Trump also signed a bill last year to help choke off the other major source of imported fentanyl, which is the thousands of packages mailed into the United States directly from China. This is yet another sign that he will stop at nothing and will operate on multiple simultaneous strategies to save Americans from this scourge. He also recognizes that our efforts will be much more effective if China is part of the solution. Earlier this year, his trade negotiators successfully convinced China to outlaw fentanyl. Last week, the administration issued sanctions against Chinese nationals involved in fentanyl production and smuggling.
There is still a long way to go in the fight against fentanyl as a deadly contributor to the drug crisis in our country, but President Trump is prosecuting this fight with vigor and achieving great progress. There may not be any fanfare, but countless lives are being saved just the same.
Madison Gesiotto is an attorney and a commentator who serves with the advisory board of the Donald Trump campaign. She was an inauguration spokesperson and former Miss Ohio. She is on Twitter @MadisonGesiotto.