Here’s how fen­tanyl has be­come such a dan­ger to Texas res­i­dents

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

As a for­mer Border Pa­trol agent, mem­ber of Congress and chair­man of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, I un­der­stand first-hand the dif­fi­cul­ties of se­cur­ing our bor­ders.

Per­haps today, there may be no more im­por­tant border-se­cu­rity pri­or­ity than stop­ping fen­tanyl, the syn­thetic opi­oid, from en­ter­ing the United States from Mex­ico and China.

Fen­tanyl is a syn­thetic opi­oid pain re­liever ap­proved for treat­ing se­vere pain and is 50 to 100 times more po­tent than mor­phine, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. While it does have a le­git­i­mate med­i­cal use, the CDC says it “is sold through il­le­gal drug mar­kets for its heroin-like ef­fect.”

CDC statis­tics found that “among the more than 64,000 drug over­dose deaths es­ti­mated in 2016, the sharpest in­crease oc­curred among deaths re­lated to fen­tanyl and fen­tanyl analogs (syn­thetic opi­oids) with over 20,000 over­dose deaths.”

The rise in fen­tanyl-re­lated over­doses is tied di­rectly to the na­tional opi­oid epi­demic, which over the last decade has be­come our nation’s big­gest pub­lic health cri­sis.

As law en­force­ment agen­cies are crack­ing down on the over­pre­scrip­tion of opi­oid med­i­ca­tions — and as physi­cians are tak­ing steps to limit the avail­abil­ity of these drugs — treat­ment is of­ten miss­ing from the equa­tion. Lack­ing ac­cess to drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, ad­dicts look to syn­thetic opi­oid al­ter­na­tives. Re­gret­tably, drug deal­ers and in­ter­na­tional crime syn­di­cates have stepped in to lure ad­dicts by pro­duc­ing, smug­gling and dis­tribut­ing fen­tanyl across Amer­ica.

One way that fen­tanyl en­ters the coun­try is through on­line sales from China. In­ves­ti­ga­tors re­cently iden­ti­fied 500 on­line fen­tanyl transactions that had a street value of about $766 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Congress. Many of these il­le­gal drug ship­ments orig­i­nat­ing from China were even con­ducted through the U.S. Postal Ser­vice. Sen. Rob Port­man, an Ohio Repub­li­can, one of the spon­sors of the re­port, stated, “We now know the depth to which drug traf­fick­ers ex­ploit our mail sys­tem to ship fen­tanyl and other syn­thetic drugs into the United States.”

An­other way fen­tanyl is smug­gled into the coun­try, is across our south­ern border. Drug car­tels in Mex­ico — al­ready ex­perts on bring­ing metham­phetamines into the U.S. — now are us­ing the same meth­ods to bring in fen­tanyl, which is even more deadly and addictive than meth.

Dr. John Heller­st­edt, com­mis­sioner for the Texas Depart­ment of State Health Ser­vices, re­cently told leg­is­la­tors that over the last decade that the num­ber of opi­oid-re­lated over­doses in Texas has steadily in­creased. “From 1999 to 2007 there was a steep in­crease in the num­ber of drug over­dose deaths, start­ing at 793 and peak­ing at over 2,000. Since then, we have re­mained at 2,000 deaths in any given year,” he said.

I want to be clear: It will not be easy to stem the tide of fen­tanyl. Af­ter all, it is both highly addictive for users and ex­tremely prof­itable for deal­ers. But, for the safety of our friends, fam­i­lies and neigh­bors, all law en­force­ment agen­cies sim­ply must do a bet­ter job.


While fen­tanyl has a le­git­i­mate med­i­cal use, the CDC says it “is sold through il­le­gal drug mar­kets for its heroin-like ef­fect.”

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