The mount­ing death toll from il­licit drugs

The na­tion lost 20,000 lives in 2015 alone

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Wil­liam C. Triplett II Wil­liam C. Triplett, II is the for­mer chief coun­sel to the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

In round num­bers, 20,000 Amer­i­cans who were alive at the be­gin­ning of 2015 did not live to see the New Year be­cause of heroin and fen­tanyl traf­ficked from Mex­ico and China. This mas­sive loss of life came in spite of the heroic work of first re­spon­ders around the United States and the wider avail­abil­ity of the re­cov­ery med­i­ca­tion nalox­one, with­out which the over­all loss would have been far higher.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol have just re­leased the 2015 nar­cotic death statis­tics. Ac­cord­ing to the CDC, 12,990 Amer­i­can cit­i­zens died from heroin over­doses, a 23 per­cent in­crease from 2014’s 10,574 heroin deaths. An­other 9,580 Amer­i­cans died from over­dos­ing on syn­thetic opi­oids, pri­mar­ily from the fen­tanyl group, a huge in­crease from 2014, up 73 per­cent from 5,544 the pre­vi­ous year. Since the vic­tims fre­quently com­bine heroin and fen­tanyl to­gether and to avoid dou­ble count­ing, the CDC said, “Taken to­gether, 19,885 Amer­i­cans lost their lives in 2015 to deaths in­volv­ing pri­mar­ily il­licit opi­oids.” Twenty thou­sand dead in round num­bers.

To put this in per­spec­tive, ac­cord­ing to U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial statis­tics, there were 16,899 fa­tal­i­ties to U.S. forces in Viet­nam dur­ing 1968, the high­est yearly level of the war. This means that in 2015, il­licit opi­oid deaths of Amer­i­cans were 18 per­cent higher than U.S. bat­tle deaths in the Viet­nam War at its height.

Af­ter 1968, the Viet­nam fa­tal­ity lev­els de­clined markedly. There is noth­ing to sug­gest that heroin and fen­tanyl death rates will sim­i­larly de­cline with time. In fact, based on lo­cal re­port­ing so far this year, there is ev­ery like­li­hood that when the 2016 num­bers come out at this time next year, the losses to young Amer­i­can men and women will be in­deed stag­ger­ing. In fact, the 2016 num­bers could be 50 per­cent or more higher than the Viet­nam War fa­tal­i­ties at its worst.

Yes, those dy­ing of opi­oid over­doses are vol­un­teers, but we don’t call it “get­ting hooked” for noth­ing. Even the most car­ing and ex­pen­sive sub­stance abuse treat­ment is up against a vi­cious foe when it comes to opi­oids like Mex­i­can heroin and Chi­nese fen­tanyl. Treat­ment pro­grams vary widely and there are no agreed-upon statis­tics on re­lapse rates. But ac­cord­ing to Stephen Gil­man, a treat­ment spe­cial­ist physi­cian in New York City, about 85 per­cent of those who go off opi­oids re­lapse within one year. On a re­cent “60 Min­utes” pro­gram, one of the suf­fer­ers de­scribed go­ing in and out of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties over and over again with no ob­vi­ous im­prove­ment.

Cer­tainly, those who are now ad­dicted de­serve our con­cern, what­ever the re­lapse rate. Congress has just moved to ap­pro­pri­ate $1 bil­lion for treat­ment op­tions. This may help those cur­rently suf­fer­ing, but it does noth­ing to pre­vent tens of thou­sands of other Amer­i­cans be­com­ing newly ad­dicted and dy­ing mis­er­able deaths.

Preven­tion is the real role for gov­ern­ment in halt­ing the un­nec­es­sary deaths of Amer­i­cans from poi­son pour­ing over the bor­der and this is where the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed spec­tac­u­larly. The fact that Mex­i­can heroin and Chi­nese fen­tanyl are widely avail­able, and cheap, in ev­ery com­mu­nity in the coun­try tells us that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has let the flood gates open with dis­as­trous con­se­quences. Just re­cently, a batch of “bad heroin” was re­spon­si­ble for the over­dose deaths of 35 peo­ple over five days in Philadel­phia. The tox­i­col­ogy re­ports are not back yet, but the re­port of “bad heroin” may turn out to be heroin laced with one of the rel­a­tives of fen­tanyl. In the com­pet­i­tive street drug en­vi­ron­ment, Chi­nese chemists are try­ing to stay ahead by chang­ing the po­tency to the point where Amer­i­can deal­ers don’t know how much to di­lute it.

The fen­tanyl-re­lated drugs are now so po­tent that they even pose a dan­ger to first re­spon­ders and K-9 of­fi­cers when this junk gets air­borne.

Help is on the way. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, Don­ald Trump went right af­ter the prob­lem, promis­ing to tar­get drug traf­fick­ers more ag­gres­sively through pros­e­cu­tion and bor­der enforcement. The nom­i­na­tion of Ma­rine Gen. John Kelly as sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity is an ex­cel­lent start. His last as­sign­ment be­fore re­tir­ing was as com­man­der of the U.S. South­ern Com­mand. South­com cov­ers U.S. re­spon­si­bil­i­ties south of Mex­ico and gave Gen. Kelly a use­ful ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sit­u­a­tion fac­ing cit­i­zens of Latin Amer­ica who may wish to be­come il­le­gal mi­grants to the United States. The gen­eral is a strong pro­po­nent of bor­der se­cu­rity.

The bot­tom line is that the deaths of 20,000 Amer­i­cans lie at Pres­i­dent Obama’s door and next year, there will be still more to be counted from his watch. Even with a Trump 100day push on bor­der se­cu­rity, we can’t ex­pect the death rate from traf­ficked Mex­i­can heroin and Chi­nese fen­tanyl to come down much be­fore De­cem­ber 2017. But it will come down, and some­one’s child who might oth­er­wise have been lost, will live.

Preven­tion is the real role for gov­ern­ment in halt­ing the un­nec­es­sary deaths of Amer­i­cans.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LINAS GARSYS

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