Of the many crises gripping our nation under President Joe Biden, one of the most troubling is the sharp increase in deaths from the synthetic opioid fentanyl. In the calendar year 2020, more Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 died from fentanyl than from COVID-19, car accidents, cancer and suicide combined. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among U.S. adults.
Fentanyl has dramatically changed the drug landscape in America. With a potency 50 times stronger than heroin, its effects have been devastating to individuals, families and communities. Mississippians know firsthand. According to one recent report, fentanyl overdoses accounted for 749 drug-related deaths in Mississippi between 2011 and 2020.
Fentanyl is showing up everywhere. Some distributors have begun hiding it in tablets that look like over-the-counter pills and even in candy-shaped objects, which appeal to children. Other common drugs like marijuana and cocaine are increasingly laced with deadly fentanyl.
This horrible drug is wreaking special havoc on America’s students. Just this month, one California high school student died and another was hospitalized because of fentanyl intake. In 2020, Oxford experienced 11 drug overdoses and two deaths on account of fentanyl. As one former drug enforcement senior official put it, fentanyl is “the most pernicious, the most devastating drug that we have ever seen.”
The fentanyl crisis is a true sign of the times.
With crime on the rise under President Biden, strained police departments lack the resources to tackle this crisis alone. Last year in DeSoto County, it took a multi-agency investigation to arrest a dealer trying to sell a whopping 32 grams of fentanyl, enough to kill thousands of people. There are surely many more dealers across Mississippi going undetected.
Our porous southern border is also to blame. Contrary to the absurd claims of Vice President Kamala Harris, our border is anything but “secure.” According to official data, there have been approximately 8,000 encounters with illegal border crossers per day in recent months. Uncontrolled migration keeps the Border Patrol occupied, giving drug traffickers and cartels an open lane.
Disturbingly, China has taken note of our open border and become complicit in the fentanyl crisis. Many of the component materials in fentanyl are in fact made in China and shipped to Mexico “illegally.” One congressional report even revealed that thousands of Chinese nationals are in Mexico making fentanyl components for the cartels.
This status quo cannot continue, and I am working with other members of Congress to address this crisis. Recently, I joined Senator Marco Rubio in cosponsoring the Felony Murder for Fentanyl Distribution Act. If enacted, this bill would allow prosecutors to charge dealers with murder and a 20-year minimum sentence for selling fentanyl if it results in a death. This would send a loud and clear message to drug dealers that the U.S. will not tolerate the scourge of fentanyl on our communities.
A second policy I have supported would boost funding for key defense and homeland security programs that focus on intercepting drugs. The cartels have grown stronger and richer under President Biden, and defeating them requires that we equip the good guys with adequate resources.
With the Biden economy making life harder for us all, Mississippians should not have to deal with the added challenge of a fentanyl epidemic. It is time for America to stop the spread of this deadly drug at its source and make our communities safer.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Read it here.