Earlier this month, federal health officials announced that fentanyl passed heroin as the deadliest drug in America. This development is equal parts disturbing and unsurprising, considering the accelerated pace at which the opioid crisis currently thrives. Pair this notion with the small dosages needed to make the drug lethal (commonly illustrated via comparison to a penny), and fentanyl’s newfound threat level is far from shocking — even when stacked up against the horrific addiction process associated with heroin (in some cases, the two drugs are even “cut” together).
The path leading to this current fentanyl situation has been an undulating one, with several attempts at additional regulation and risk mitigation apparently proving ineffective, though mostly well intentioned — and this has happened, in part, due to a collection of subsequent diversions and distractions that have only complicated the issue. Be this as it may, the reality is we must remain forward thinking with regards to the fentanyl crisis, as it is clearly only increasing in both frequency and deadliness. It is important that, during the new year, we double down on effective solutions and remain as focused as possible in the process.
Facing the issue
It could be argued that our nation has already directly addressed the opioid epidemic on a variety of fronts, and that a prevailing solution simply has yet to be found, but have we truly done so? For much of the past decade alone, the issue has been shamelessly politicized and bloated with the aforementioned wedge issues, keeping us distracted with irrelevant side conversations. Local politicians have gone to great lengths to “not criminalize addiction” by stemming arrests and prosecutions for drug possession. However, law enforcement sources have condemned this practice as, for every possessor of these deadly drugs, there was someone who sold them illicitly; with less and less narcotics enforcement taking place in our nation’s most vulnerable areas.
That said, we must make 2019 the year that we confront the crisis head on, opting instead for a bipartisan approach rooted in two key factors: objective, results-based litigation and a better understanding of what fentanyl addiction truly looks like (in many cases, addiction sufferers are “normal” individuals with jobs and seemingly functional lives). Regarding the former, it is time to embrace the fact that, despite our efforts, fentanyl remains scarily easy to obtain in a variety of potent forms, and users are becoming more enabled than ever.
Considering certain so-called preventative measures focus on the “safe” use of opioids, we have actually doubled down on enabling users rather than deterring them — the literal inverse of the nation’s collectively desired endpoint. This matter, just like several similar ones, is both ineffective and misfocused; it is an example of us getting caught up in irrelevant management scenarios rather nipping the entire issue’s progression in the bud. A clear avenue toward this outcome has yet to show itself, but to circumvent further snags along the way, we must continue to support elected officials focused solely on eliminating the issue. If this means tighter laws and more intense consequences — at both the national and local level — so be it. At this point, we may be running out of time to deliberate a softer answer.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP is a nationally-recognized subject matter expert in public safety and investigations. He is is the former Director, Office of Investigations for the American Board of Internal Medicine, having previously served in both federal and municipal law enforcement & homeland security agencies and an established Public Safety Consultant. He has served on collegiate academic advisory boards as well as the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for infrastructure protection for over six years.