America has lost the war on opioids and the consequences are astounding.
Last year, 69,710 Americans died of opioid overdoses. In one year, we lost 19% more Americans than in the Vietnam War and 30 times more killed in Afghanistan.
The nearly 70,000 deaths in 2020 mark a 49% increase since 2018, when opioid concerns were at the top of the U.S. political agenda and the last major opioid legislation was enacted. Moreover, without the recent and widespread use of naloxone, which rapidly reverses drug overdoses, the losses in 2020 would have been even more staggering.
Drug treatment and prevention programs are extremely important and should be vigorously funded and expanded. But a lot more is needed.
The war on opioids must also include seizing as many opioids as possible. This requires the full application of the 2018 law on trafficking in synthetic products and the prevention of overdoses (STOP law), the main legislation referenced above. Simply put, the less opioid drug cartels ship, the less people die.
The STOP law requires advanced electronic data tracking information on all packages entering the United States. The international postal system, unlike private mailers, has only recently been subject to this requirement.
With AED, law enforcement can use sophisticated data analytics to better identify and seize suspicious packages containing opioids. Data analytics is growing in leaps and bounds, bringing many other benefits to America. The ACN is a high-tech weapon against drug cartels that America must deploy more widely and systemically, and constantly improve.
One of the biggest challenges facing the drug cartels is getting fentanyl and synthetic opioids to America, almost all of which are produced outside the United States. Much of it is smuggled across the US-Mexico border. But much of it comes from China through the international postal system, as a 2018 bipartisan Senate report revealed.
We are much more successful at seizing opioids at the border while raising a white flag on opioids entering the United States by mail.
So far in 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection have seized 9,337 pounds of fentanyl, which is fueling the opioid epidemic. This is a large increase from the 4,791 pounds seized in 2020 and 2,283 pounds in 2018.
On the postal front, CBP missed the deadline set by the STOP Act to issue final regulations in October 2019 and only issued interim regulations on March 15, 2021. These regulations ignore the letter and spirit of the STOP law.
The STOP law requires that packages without AED not be delivered. Yet every month tens of thousands of these packages continue to be delivered.
The STOP law required each country to place the AED on packages entering the United States before January 1, 2021. Today, more than 100 countries have been granted exemptions.
In addition, CBP has given no indication of how it will report to Congress on opioid seizures made by AED and the steps it is taking to improve enforcement of the STOP law.
The drug cartels, which are run by sophisticated and crafty operators, are likely pivoting and looking to ship more drugs through the post. When part of a balloon is compressed, the air, or in this case the expeditions, goes in another direction.
To be fair, CBP does important work and is under great pressure. He should have a lot more resources for his work on the southern border and in general. But if CBP does not aggressively enforce the STOP law and seize opioids in the mail, that burden will be placed on national and local law enforcement agencies who are also overwhelmed.
America will not do its best to fight opioids until the letter and spirit of the STOP law is in full force, as requested by Congress in a majority bipartisan vote in 2018.
America must wage and win the war on opioids. We have the technology and the resources to do it. Add determination and common sense and it will be the drug cartels that die, not 70,000 of our fellow Americans.
Paul Steidler is Principal Investigator at the Lexington Institute. This column was provided by InsideSources.