The U.S. needs a nimble, multipronged strategy and Cabinet-level leadership to counter the overdose epidemic, a bipartisan congressional commission advises. With powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl driving record overdose deaths, the scourge of opioids awaits after the COVID-19 pandemic finally recedes, a shift that public health experts expect. “This is one of our most pressing national security, law enforcement and public health challenges, and we must do more as a nation and a government to protect our most precious resource — American lives,” says the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking.
The report envisions a dynamic strategy, says the Associated Press. It would rely on law enforcement and diplomacy to shut down sources of chemicals used for synthetic opioids. It would offer treatment and support for people who become addicted It would invest in research to understand addiction’s grip on the human brain and to develop treatments for opioid use disorder.
The global coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed the opioid epidemic for the last two years. Rrecent news that overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 in one year caught the public’s attention.
Rep. David Trone (D-MD),, a co-chair of the panel that produced the report, said he believes that support is still there, and that the issue appeals to President Biden’s pragmatic side. “The president has been crystal clear,” Trone said. “These are two major issues in America: addiction and mental health.” The panel's co-chair is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
Federal anti-drug strategy traditionally emphasized law enforcement and long prison sentences. That came to be seen as tainted by racial bias and counter-productive because drug use is treatable. The value of treatment has recently has gained recognition with anti-addiction medicines in wide use alongside older strategies like support groups.
The report recommends what it calls five “pillars” for government action:
— Elevating the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to act as the nerve center for far-flung federal efforts, and restoring Cabinet rank to its director.
— Disrupting the supply of drugs through better coordinated law enforcement actions.
— Reducing the demand for illicit drugs through treatment. Treatment programs should follow science-based “best practices.”
— Using diplomacy to enlist help from other governments in cutting off the supply of chemicals that criminal networks use to manufacture fentanyl.
— Developing surveillance and data analysis tools to spot new trends in illicit drug use before they morph into major problems for society.