"American democracy only works if we choose to respect the rule of law," said President Joe Biden last week, just as he accused half the nation of being anti-American authoritarians.
It’s a sign of how out of touch this administration is with the lives of people who don’t spend all day on Twitter. The greatest source of lawlessness in America isn’t Republicans — it’s the southern border, where the president’s failed policies are allowing drug dealers to feed the worst overdose crisis in our country’s history.
Last year, more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, surpassing all previous records. Many of those deaths came from deadly fentanyl, a synthetic opioid manufactured in China and smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico, which is flooding the black market. This epidemic will only intensify as Beijing suspends counter-narcotics cooperation with America.
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Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among adults aged 18-45. Adults are not the only ones in danger, though. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, cartels increasingly target children and young people.
The most obvious instance of this trend is the pills of "rainbow fentanyl" that the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels are smuggling across the border, which law officers have seized in 18 states just this month. "Little children think … that they may be candy-like SweeTARTS or Skittles," explained one sheriff in a sobering interview. "They’re simply going to die from ingesting these pills."
Teenagers might not be in danger of confusing drugs for candy, but as dealers move their sales to e-commerce sites and links on social media — and lace pills like Percocet and Xanax with more potent fentanyl — they are causing more and more drug overdose deaths.
When President Donald Trump was in office, he met the overdose epidemic head-on. He worked to secure the border, restricted opioid prescriptions, made the life-saving overdose antidote Naloxone more widely available, and started new anti-drug abuse ad campaigns. These efforts correlated with a reduction in overdose deaths between 2017 and 2018.
The influx of fentanyl toward the end of Trump’s presidency put an end to that recovery. But even as things get worse, Biden has not given the situation the attention it deserves. So far, all he has done is release a National Drug Control Strategy. A strategy is a good start, but it’s not enough to stop the death rate from rising.
First, the government must restrict the illegal drug market. My "Domain Reform for Unlawful Drug Sellers" or DRUGS Act would enable the Department of Justice and other trusted entities to suspend websites that facilitate the sale of illegal drugs. We should pass it immediately to keep deadly poison out of the hands of minors and other users.
Second, the government must heighten legal penalties for selling fentanyl. At this point, no dealer or government official can plead ignorance of this drug’s lethality. That’s why I’m introducing a bill that would make the sale of fentanyl eligible to be charged as felony murder when it inevitably kills the user. Turning that bill into law would just be common sense.
Third, we must put greater pressure on Beijing to control fentanyl production at its source, as well as the production of fentanyl precursors that Chinese dealers sell to traffickers in Mexico. In 2019, the Senate passed the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, which would empower the government to sanction foreign drug producers, but the bill never made it past the House. We’ll have to do better to bring down the number of opioids entering the U.S.
Most importantly, Biden and his fellow Democrats must stop undermining border security. If they want to keep Americans safe and healthy, it’s critical that they start enforcing the rule of law and crack down on illegal immigration, in rhetoric and in action.
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In addition to these concrete steps, reckoning with the overdose epidemic will take a mindset change. The Biden administration and the Democratic Party broadly are so obsessed with mitigating physical harm in the short term that they don’t see how their policies are fueling the epidemic in less tangible, but no less real, ways.
They don’t see, for example, how providing drug users with crack pipes and syringes might enable addiction even as it reduces short-term risks. Meanwhile, they make excuses for the open-air drug dens that plague many of America’s once great cities.
In addition, while the Democrats acknowledge that COVID-19 "brought on greater behavioral health challenges for everyone," they refused to reverse draconian measures like in-person school closures when viral risks were down, and depression, anxiety, and drug abuse risks were up. And they embrace policies that expand the welfare state at the expense of good jobs, even though a strong labor market is one of our best protections against "deaths of despair."
Every day, more Americans suffer from such deaths. How many more are needed before Biden and fellow Democrats do what is necessary to stem the overdose epidemic? We must act now if we are to make up for lost ground.