Do you know someone who has died from an opioid-related overdose? Perhaps someone’s teenaged child, someone’s mother or father, someone’s sister or brother. It’s always just “someone” until that someone permeates your microcosm and has a name, a family, a life.
“Open our borders and let them in!” “Stop the flow of illegal drugs into our country!” “Addicts are a boon on our society!” “Tear down the wall!” “Finish the wall and protect our borders!” My chest tightens, and my anxiety spikes as I write, feeling there is no obvious solution to the long-festering and polarizing border policy issues we face today. Perhaps you can relate.
What do we prioritize? How do we lead with grace as a country, offering aid to those pouring in while also protecting our borders and citizens? The promise of a relaxed border policy and resulting border crisis under our current administration raises many concerns. Millions of tax dollars are supporting thousands of migrant unaccompanied minors, while our citizens and children go hungry and homeless. Migrant facilities are crowded and inhuman. As migrants spread out among our country, many are concerned we will not effectively monitor new arrivals for voter eligibility, and COVID-19.
Considering these significant humanitarian issues, it can be easy to overlook or even trivialize the dramatic increase of illegal drugs like deadly fentanyl flooding in this year. After all, drug trafficking via our southern border is nothing new. But if our administration doesn’t prioritize stemming the flow of fentanyl into our country, there will continue to be more “someone’s,” maybe even someone you know, every single day.
BORDER POLICY AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
President Biden’s campaign promises on immigration reform fueled tens of thousands of migrants’ journey to the southern border, creating a border crisis. This is perhaps what prompted Mexican cartels to increase the flow of illegal drugs smuggled into the U.S., hoping the chaos created at the border would allow them to increase profits. Unfortunately, it seems to be working.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), more fentanyl has been seized through April of 2021 than throughout all of 2020, with a reported increase of 34% over March’s seizures. The first-quarter data was even more startling, with CBP reporting a 233% increase over the first quarter last year.
This equates to nearly 6,500 pounds of seized fentanyl so far this year compared to 4,776 pounds seized in all of 2020. Why is this concerning? “Security forces say you can calculate drug production from the size of seizures,” says Anabel Hernandez, an investigative reporter who writes about drug trafficking. “The amounts confiscated represent about 10 to 15% of real production.”
To put this in perspective, fentanyl is typically medically administered in doses of 50 to 100 micrograms. Other narcotic medications are often given in milligrams, and one microgram is equal to 1/1000 of one milligram. This sheds light on why much lower doses of fentanyl can achieve a greater high than other opioids.
For people who have not developed a tolerance, a lethal dose of fentanyl can be as little as 2 milligrams compared to the lethal dose for heroin somewhere between 75 and 375 milligrams and doses over 200 milligrams for morphine. This contributes to the reported increase in opioid-related overdose deaths.
There are 453,592 milligrams in a pound, which means just one pound of fentanyl could kill 226,796 people. The estimated 65,000 pounds produced so far this year is enough to kill many Americans, especially if they don’t know they are ingesting the stuff.
Mexican cartels profit during this time of chaotic crisis while our citizens pay the price. A 2019 report by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) estimated that each fentanyl pill costs around one dollar to produce and can be sold in the U.S. for at least ten times that amount.
DANGERS OF FENTANYL
Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid analgesic like morphine, but 50 to 100 times more powerful, making it an extremely dangerous and highly addictive drug. Initially developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, fentanyl quickly became a popular additive to heroin and other opioids due to its intensifying properties.
It is attractive for manufacturers, dealers, and users alike due to its potency and relatively low cost compared to other illicit drugs. For this reason, it is “snuck” into pills and heroin to increase and intensify the high, making them more addictive and deadly, and even wholly substituted and sold as a more potent form of heroin. Many users have no idea they are taking fentanyl or fentanyl-infused substances, which leads to more accidental and devastating overdoses.
According to the DEA, Mexico manufactures most illegal fentanyl, which is why a more relaxed border policy could contribute to an increased supply crossing into the U.S., perpetuating the opioid crisis.
WHY THIS MATTERS
America does not want more fentanyl entering our country and neighborhoods. For over 20 years, we have been fighting an opioid crisis, and the drugs are winning. Drug overdose death rates in the U.S. have nearly quadrupled since 1999, involving legally prescribed pain management opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone and illicit drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and deadly fentanyl.
Now more than ever, we need to stem the flow of illegal drugs into our communities. Overdose deaths spiked after the start of the pandemic, increasing in nearly every state during the first eight months. From June 2019 to May 2020, 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred, marking the highest number of overdoses over 12 months ever recorded. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl drove this spike and ongoing death toll.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published an interactive tool with preliminary weekly estimates of overdose deaths. The data suggest that the final overdose death total for 2020 could exceed 90,000 lives lost compared to 70,630 reported for 2019. That would not only be the highest annual number on record, but the most significant single-year percentage increase in the past 20 years, and illegal fentanyl is a massive contributor to those deaths.
A relaxed border policy and subsequent border crisis have far-reaching consequences that only add to our country’s sad modern tradition of growing numbers of opioid addicts and resulting overdose deaths. Our administration must act and fast.
Samantha DeTurk is a health and science writer for ThinkCivics. Sam graduated cum laude from BSU with a major in Theatre and a minor in Telecommunications and spent her first 5 years post-grad working in the radio industry before joining corporate America as a business consultant for a Fortune 300 HCM leader. When she’s not writing or cooking delicious WFPB cuisine, Sam loves singing, acting, spending time at the lake with her husband and ornery kitty Jasper, and (badly) learning to play her ukulele, The UkuBaby.