American Opinion: Fentanyl crisis won’t be solved by indulging in violent fantasies of bombing Mexico

From the editorial:

Mexico fentanyl
A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chemist checks confiscated powder containing fentanyl at the DEA Northeast Regional Laboratory on Oct. 8, 2019 in New York.
(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Many Americans nowadays know someone who died of a fentanyl overdose. The drug is highly potent and is slipped in with other illegal substances. From 2016 to 2021, the number of people in California who have died due to fentanyl-related causes increased from 239 to nearly 6,000.

American Opinion
American Opinion
Tribune graphic / Forum News Service
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It’s natural that people are searching for solutions. One is Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Dan Barnes, whose job includes running an office that has to identify the victims of fentanyl-related poisonings and informing their grieving friends and relatives. Unfortunately, he’s reaching too far for an answer, calling for using the U.S. military against the Mexican drug cartels that bring the illicit fentanyl across the border.

In a letter, Barnes endorsed House Joint Resolution 18, by Republican Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Mike Waltz of Florida. “The drug cartels are flooding American communities with the deadly drug fentanyl and continue to destroy the lives of so many people on both sides of our Southern border,” Barnes wrote.

HJR 18 would “authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or … carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere.”

That’s an open-ended invitation to endless military assaults in the whole hemisphere, including right here at home. While this makes for quite the publicity stunt for Reps. Crenshaw and Waltz, militaristic jingoism isn’t a serious plan for tackling a serious problem like the current drug overdose problem facing the nation. For one, U.S.-backed drug eradication efforts have gone on for decades. The U.S. military occupied Afghanistan. The result, by the time the U.S. exited that country? More opium production than before the U.S. invasion. Efforts in Colombia likewise failed to stop the massive drug trade, despite billions of dollars in U.S. expenditures.


“This plan overlooks the inconvenient fact that efforts to block the supply of illegal drugs, no matter how enthusiastically or violently pursued, have never had a substantial and lasting impact on the price or availability of these substances,” Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at the Los Angeles-based Reason magazine, told us. “Drug prohibition sows the seeds of its own defeat by enabling traffickers to earn a premium for undertaking the special risks involved in supplying an illegal product. Fentanyl magnifies that challenge because it is synthetic and highly potent, making it much easier to produce and smuggle.”

There’s also the fact that you can’t bomb away the drug problem. Drug addiction is a serious issue in the United States. Instead of indulging violent fantasies of bombing Mexico, policymakers should be looking at how to help those suffering drug problems.

As Sullum notes, the fentanyl crisis in part is due to the crackdown on legal painkillers in the last decade, forcing those in great pain onto the black market, where the substitutes “are much more dangerous because their potency is highly variable and unpredictable.” Arguably, the U.S. should consider loosening restrictions on prescribing legal painkillers to those in need.

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Californians like Sheriff Barnes should support overdose prevention programs so addicts can use their drugs under medical supervision. That will help curtail overdose deaths and could provide a path to treatment for those who want it.

And finally, there should be a greater investment in addiction treatment, making it more easily, accessible especially to those caught up in the criminal justice system.

Let’s be smart about drug policy, not barbaric.

This American Opinion editorial is the view of the Orange County Register Editorial Board. Send feedback to:

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