First there was the “War On Drugs,” then there was “Just Say No.”
These were lengthy, bitterly fought battles by the United States government in an effort to get illegal narcotics out of the lives of U.S. citizens; to save young Americans; and to rid our urban, and rural, areas of the vicious criminal elements involved in these enterprises.
These efforts didn’t work very well, and as a result, we are now in the midst of an opioid ‘crisis’ that calls for equally extreme measures to fix things.
As a former staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, I am familiar with the legislative branch’s efforts to curb the scourge of drug addiction is this country.
In this regard, I organized Congressional hearings to highlight the many facets of the devastation of the drug problem in our nation, along with what could be done to try to combat it, and who should be involved in these efforts. One of the best regarded of these public testimonials was a hearing on Sports and Drug Abuse, where as many high level sports figures as we could arrange appeared together in a Senate hearing room and related their incredible stories on how illegal drugs were intruding upon their world. A similar such effort with regards to the opioid crisis would be welcomed by many in the sports arena, and by many families, today.
But while several Senate and House Subcommittees have organized well-publicized hearings on many aspects of the opioid crisis, there is one part of the crisis in particular that has been overlooked and warrants more attention.
Fentanyl, one of the newer and nastier additions to the opioid crisis, is a synthetic drug that is known to be “wildly addictive.” Often manufactured in Chinese laboratories and smuggled in by Mexican cartels, the drug, which is 50 – 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 – 50 more potent than heroin, is at its most destructive in the United States. Fentanyl, unbeknownst to many users, is often mixed by dealers into other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine to provide users with a more potent high. Since a dose as small as “a quarter of a milligram” can be fatal, the addition of fentanyl has made this all-too-often dangerous game into a truly deadly one with tragic consequences.
It is currently estimated that 175 Americans per day are dying from opioid abuse, fueled primarily by a surge in fentanyl overdose deaths. While three years ago, just 2 percent of all heroin in the U.S. was found to contain fentanyl, that number has since surged to a full 1/3 of all heroin tested.
Just as frightening is the risk this deadly poison poses even to non-users. A recent drug bust of a fentanyl dealer in New York yielded 45 kilos (almost 100 pounds) of product. This much fentanyl could have killed the entire population of New York City, and the entire population of the state of New Jersey.
There is currently near universal recognition of the seriousness of this problem in America. President Trump created the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, and has arranged for the appointments of numerous participants to direct the Commission’s efforts. These include doctors, addiction treatment providers, parents, schools, patients, faith-based leaders, law enforcement, insurers, the medical industry and researchers, along with relevant political figures; all determined to combat this national public health emergency.
A few of the efforts already agreed upon and enacted include: the NIH “partnering with pharmaceutical companies to develop non-addictive painkillers and new treatments for addiction and overdose;” more data sharing among state-based prescription drug monitoring programs; requiring every level of law enforcement to be equipped with naxolone, the live-saving antidote to opioid overdoses; and developing an “expansive national multi-media campaign to fight this national health emergency.”
This is just the beginning, but it is a good one, and it has been a rapid developing one. Shockingly, today only 10.6 percent of youths and adults “who need treatment for a substance use disorder” receive that treatment, an unacceptably low percentage that shows that steps that still need to rein this crisis in.
We can win this one. We know where opioids come from, we know who manufactures them, we know who gets them here, and we know how they get to our citizens. But to be effective in combatting this evil we must ensure that every related government entity, including Congress, is combatting the sources of addiction and overdose, especially potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Previous efforts to wean America off its drug habit might not have worked, but this is an opportunity to correct those missteps of the past.
Susan Smith Mellody has been a magazine columnist, speechwriter, and reporter. For more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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