A growing coalition of politicians want tougher police tactics used against gangs that sell fentanyl, methamphetamines and xylazine. "We do need to stop the trafficking of these drugs and give law enforcement the tools they need," said Sen. Catherine Masto Cortez (D-NV), lead sponsor of a bill to toughen penalties for dealing the synthetic drug xylazine, NPR reports. Big drug sweeps, narcotics seizures and mass arrests of dealers have been a cornerstone of the war on drugs since the 1970s. New research published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests drug busts and police crackdowns on dealers may be making the overdose crisis worse. The study, which underwent a rigorous peer-review process because of its controversial findings, is based on data gathered in Indianapolis that found patterns of overdose and death that followed drug seizures in the city.
"With opioids we saw overdoses double in the area immediately surrounding a seizure, within maybe a five-minute walk of that seizure over the next several weeks," said study co-author Jennifer Carroll, a medical anthropologist at North Carolina University. Federal and state lawmakers have raced to boost funding for drug interdiction, while toughening criminal penalties for trafficking fentanyl. "We can't just allow the drugs to come in because we are seeing too many deaths," said Masto Cortez. People with addiction wind up buying fentanyl, methamphetamines and other high-risk street drugs from strangers selling drugs of different potency — often with different, more dangerous ingredients. When people experiencing severe addiction are forced to go without drugs — even for a short period of time — it can alter their level of tolerance. Beginning to use again may make them more vulnerable to overdose and death. Brandon Del Pozo, a former police chief who now studies drug policy at Brown University, is one of the new study's co-authors. He says it is clear that drug-bust tactics put lives at risk without actually cleaning up neighborhoods.