Drug Policy

Fentanyl Importation Reaches 'Shocking' Levels, Says Prosecutor

Maybe it's time to try a new approach?

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Inside view of a newly-opened supervised injection site is seen in Surrey, Canada, on June 6, 2017. The U.S. has zero such facilities. Photo credit: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom

Law enforcement in New York confiscated a record $30 million worth of illicit fentanyl, 195 pounds of it , in two combined seizures from four defendants over the past two months. The haul dwarfs the previous record of 97 pounds, set in June of this year by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in San Diego.

We should expect to see more of it. JFK Airport receives one million pieces of international mail every day. U.S. Customs officials at the facility recently told USA Today they've been able to intercept 40 percent of the fentanyl that comes through their doors, which means most of the fentanyl bound for America passes right on through JFK. The same is likely true at other U.S. ports of entry as well as the Mexican and Canadian borders.

"The sheer volume of fentanyl pouring into the city is shocking," New York City Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan told NBC.

We can thank our own stubborn refusal to embrace harm reduction strategies, and, of course, China. According to a report from the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission, the PRC and Hong Kong "continue to divert chemicals from legitimate pharmaceutical uses and adulterate legitimate pharmaceuticals during production" due to the "fragmented and disorganized administrative system overseeing chemical production and exports."

With roughly 160,000 Chinese chemical facilities operating legally and illegally, it shouldn't surprise us that the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world and the largest global producer of chemical precursors has a major diversion problem. It also shouldn't surprise us that we don't have enough drug-sniffing dogs, Customs agents, or screening devices to catch all the fentanyl coming through the mail.

We do have one thing going for us, however, which is that most of the people who use fentanyl-tainted heroin just want the heroin. A 2015 study in the Harm Reduction Journal found that 73 percent of heroin users whose urine tested positive for fentanyl didn't know they'd taken any fentanyl at all. The sample size for this study was small, but it squares with what I've heard from non-medicinal opioid users in the U.S.: Most people take fentanyl inadvertently. They'd rather not take it at all, considering both how deadly it is and the fact that a person needs substantially more naloxone to reverse an overdose.

And before many Americans turned to heroin, many of them just wanted to use prescription pills, which is the safest option of the three. But we also made that incredibly difficult by cracking down on prescribing practices and requiring pharmaceutical companies to introduce tamper-proof formulations.

Every day of this horrendous epidemic has been a good day to ask why we don't just allow people to take heroin. The Swiss pursued this line of investigation at the height of their own HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was driven by injectable drugs. After the launch of the country's first heroin-assisted treatment clinic in 1994, Switzerland saw huge declines in drug-related deaths, drug-related crime, and AIDS-related deaths. Participants were given clean, accurately-dosed heroin three times a day under doctor's supervision. As a result, researchers saw "major disengagement from criminal activities," reductions in the use of heroin obtained outside the program, and "marked improvements in social functioning."

Heroin-assisted treatment isn't cheap: Countries with HAT programs spend roughly 15,000 Euros annually per patient, compared to roughly 2,000 Euros for medication-assisted treatment (which is also too scarce in the U.S.). But according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, "If an analysis of cost utility takes into account all relevant parameters, especially related to criminal behaviour, [HAT] saves money."

Or, you know, we could keep doing what we're doing.

NEXT: Show Business Patter Aside, Trump's a Fairly Conventional Militarist

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  1. More propaganda from the failed War on Drugs.

    Send price, related violence, and harmful use of drugs plummeting by just legalizing all drugs and substances banned during the WoD.

    This war on drugs is just madness and a failed experiment never to be tried again. Just like a ban on alcohol.

    1. It’s horrendous what happens when our valid concern for our neighbor is converted into government force.

      1. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
        ? C.S.Lewis

  2. “Or, you know, we could keep doing what we’re doing.”

    Why on earth would we do anything else? Look how many people we’ve put in jail! Look how many of those degenerate drug users are dying! How could one possibly conclude that anything other than ultimate victory in the War on Drugs is just right around the corner!?!?!? Once we achieve that, we’ll continue with the same principals and expand further into Wars on Tobacco, Alcohol, Salt, Saturated Fat, Energy Drinks, and Tacos made by white people.

  3. The sample size for this study was small, but it squares with what I’ve heard from non-medicinal opioid users in the U.S….

    ATTENTION LAW ENFORCEMENT: FOLLOW MIKE RIGGS AROUND AND ROUST HIS ACQUAINTANCES FOR AN EASY BUST.

    1. Obviously the Police should just follow around anyone who claims to be libertarian. Our beliefs inherently lead us to misdeed.

    2. Jeff Sessions and the Drug Warrior Board Room analogy:

      I have an even better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death….

      I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?

    3. Mike Riggs once snorted a line of fentanyl drawn in the shape of a raised middle finger off the floor in front of the entrance to a police station, while several cops watched, and he kept eye contact with them throughout the whole continuous inhale.

      1. Then he ran a 5k that he wasn’t even registered for, and won.

        1. I’ve always said my biggest concern with Opiates is how much energy it gives people.

  4. “If an analysis of cost utility takes into account all relevant parameters, especially related to criminal behaviour, [HAT] saves money.”

    Private people steal to support there heroin habit. To combat this moral atrocity, we’re going to legalize and proliferate the theft.

    1. Theft is all the government has (well that and violence). If HAT means they have to steal less from us for direct enforcement of drug laws, and indirect costs in investigating thefts and drug related violence, it may be a net reduction in theft overall.

      Of course, if it were just legalized, heroin would be cheap and people wouldn’t have to steal to support their habit very much. But that’s not really on the table. So I’d rather my money be spent on getting junkies high than perpetuating the same policies that got us here in the first place.

      1. So I’d rather my money be spent on getting junkies high than perpetuating the same policies that got us here in the first place.

        Again, maybe my paranoia, but with Universal Healthcare a near certainty, this feels like we’re subsidizing soma. It would obviously vary place to place and on an array of conditions, but I’d rather cut spending and keep the status quo.

        1. Ah, yes, I do recall your having similar concerns before. I can’t say you are definitely wrong. But I don’t really share your fears on that.

      2. Of course, if it were just legalized, heroin would be cheap and people wouldn’t have to steal to support their habit very much. But that’s not really on the table. So I’d rather my money be spent on getting junkies high than perpetuating the same policies that got us here in the first place.

        Actually, neither of these “policies” are on the table or, to be an optimist, both are equally on the table. Why (like Riggs) advocate for the anti-liberty one which does nothing to end prohibition?

  5. Looking forward to Canadian press releases announcing how many pounds of trans fats they’ve intercepted.

    1. “We feel this is a uniquely American problem, so in honor of them the Canadian government will list all fat intercepted in pounds instead of grams”

  6. After the launch of the country’s first heroin-assisted treatment clinic in 1994, Switzerland saw huge declines in drug-related deaths, drug-related crime, and AIDS-related deaths. Participants were given clean, accurately-dosed heroin three times a day under doctor’s supervision.

    That’s nice, but if such a clinic costs even one dollar of taxpayer money, then there’s no justification in switching from America’s current penal prohibition.

    1. That would not work since if America returned to a less socialist place, subsidizing someone’s heroin habit is not something I would support.

      I would be okay with spending taxpayer money to get people clean instead of the war on drugs but ultimately I would want government out of the drug enforcement or drug criminalization business altogether.

      Having the state give people heroin at taxpayer expense is just not the solution to people abusing drugs.

      1. “Having the state give people heroin at taxpayer expense against the backdrop of mandatory Universal Healthcare is just not the solution to people abusing drugs.”

        Look, if you have a moral problem with giving junkies their drugs and the fedgov can penaltax you for it anyway, what could possibly go wrong? I wonder if a sex or a gambling addict could get the cost of their vice subsidized? First me, then you… foreseeable consequences are not something… something…

    2. “That’s nice, but if such a clinic costs even one dollar of taxpayer money, then there’s no justification in switching from America’s current penal prohibition.”

      Am I misunderstanding you? Presumably such a program would reduce the War on Drugs. So if such a clinic system cost a dollar (or many million) it would still be orders of magnitude cheaper than the current penal prohibition.

      Are you assuming the whole War on Drugs remains in place in addition to the clinics? Or are you saying that, even if it’s vastly cheaper, you’d still rather spend mountains of money on keeping it criminal.

      1. Am I misunderstanding you? Presumably such a program would reduce the War on Drugs. So if such a clinic system cost a dollar (or many million) it would still be orders of magnitude cheaper than the current penal prohibition.

        Here, let me help; It would be an investment!

        Are you assuming the whole War on Drugs remains in place in addition to the clinics?

        Are you saying that a government bureaucracy would declare ‘Mission Accomplished’, pack up its briefcase, and vanish from existence?

      2. Presumably such a program would reduce the War on Drugs.

        WTF???

        Such a program would INCREASE the war on drugs because such a program would require a fresh supply of junkies. And if there is anything the War On Drugs does it is increase the supply of junkies.

        Have you already forgotten Michelle Obama’s umpteen lectures on frowned-upon substance du jour?

        1. Such a program would INCREASE the war on drugs because such a program would require a fresh supply of junkies.

          How do you figure? That’s not how it has worked in places where similar programs have been used.

    3. You realize, I hope, that prisons are not privately funded.

      A mere $15,000 a year would be a huge savings.

      1. They’d still fill the prisons with people selling heroin. You’re not saving anything. There just creating a new socialist medical entitlement for junkies. As Jacob Sullum has pointed out, most heroin users aren’t junkies.

    4. How much do Americans already pay for the war on drugs? Incarcerating one criminal costs on average $31,000 per year(depending on the state, NY is $60,000). Our taxes also pay the salaries of the police forces needed to continue this war ($9.4 billion in 2015). It seems, because drug enforcement budgets are tied to number of drug arrests, local police focus on what brings in the money, which is arresting small time pot dealers and meth heads. Of 1,488,707 drug arrests in 2015, 1,249,025 were for posession…that’s 84%! The remaining 16% were arrests for sale/manufacture. 29%were for pot, a drug that 61% of Americans think should be legal, and 34% were for heroin, cocaine, and derivatives. So we’re spending 9.4 billion dollars per year to bust 81,879 heroin dealers…that’s $114,703 per dealer. Add that to the mandatory minimum 15 years at $31,000 each and you get $579,703 per dirty dirty heroin dealer. Meanwhile, people keep using drugs. In this system, drug dealers, for profit prisons, law enforcement agencies, and Lawyers continue to get richer off the backs of the 1.2 million drug users in America who were unlucky enough to get caught.

  7. “The sheer volume of fentanyl pouring into the city is shocking,” she said. “It’s not only killing a record number of people in New York City, but the city is used as a hub of regional distribution for a lethal substance that is taking thousands of lives throughout the Northeast.”

    So worse than al Qaeda. Wonder what political office this lady’s eyeballing a run for.

  8. My feelz tingle me that socially conservative people are the predominant obstruction to making drug use funner (is that a word) and safer. If we took a moon shot like approach to getting blitzed I do declare and believe we could create the safest best high ever and end this hellish drug war nightmare clusterfuck.

    1. There is no greater high than our lord and savior.

  9. Speaking of safe injection sites, I noticed a shift in the local rhetoric. Previously, Vancouver’s ‘insite’ or ‘insight’ (too lazy to google it) has been kicked around as a model for safe injection sites here. There are a couple of initiatives floating around to try to block the creation of a safe injection site in King County. In response, the officials here trying to create a safe injection sight are now distancing themselves from the Vancouver model and even pointing out the problems with it– and assuring voters that the King County site won’t be anything like Vancouver’s Insight.

  10. Fun fact: if given fentanyl as an anesthetic during sinus surgery, upon waking up to discover your nose bleeding, it is possible that you will tell the nurse that your “Aunt Flo is visiting.” She will not be amused.

  11. “U.S. Customs officials at the facility recently told USA Today they’ve been able to intercept 40 percent of the fentanyl that comes through their doors,”

    How do they know it is 40%? If they are aware of all the fentanyl that is coming in, why don’t they intercept it all?

    1. Another reason that points to the abject failure of the “war on drugs”! When are they going to figure out things like 60% is plenty to keep the sales profitable?! They are going to have to destroy the profit to be made. That is just what a legal drug system would have a higher likelihood of accomplishing. Butt, there will always be those who won’t trust the government to be on board!

  12. Riggs is again calling for new socialistic public health programs.

    Why the fuck is a self-proclaimed “libertarian website” publishing this shit?

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