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'Strategic Blunders' Hampered U.S. Response To Fentanyl Crisis

Over seven years, as soaring quantities of fentanyl flooded into the U.S., what the Washington Post calls strategic blunders and cascading mistakes by successive U.S. administrations allowed the most lethal drug crisis in history to become significantly worse. Presidents from both parties failed to take effective action in the face of an urgent threat to security that claims more lives each year than car accidents, suicides or gun violence. Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49. The Drug Enforcement Administration stumbled through missteps as it confronted the biggest challenge in its 50-year history. The agency was slow to respond as Mexican cartels supplanted Chinese producers, creating a massive illicit industry that is producing more fentanyl than ever. The Department of Homeland Security failed to ramp up inspection technology at border crossings, channeling $11 billion toward building a border wall that does little to stop fentanyl traffic. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spent years fending off elimination and struggled to create an effective strategy. ONDCP lost its seat in the Cabinet.


“Law enforcement did the best it could,” said David King, director of a federal drug task force in San Diego. “We can only do so much. But in Washington, they have been very slow to respond to this and now we are at the confluence of paralysis.” DEA is now taking direct aim at the Mexican cartels and the fentanyl epidemic. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram acknowledged that the government remained too focused on heroin at the onset of the crisis, as Mexican traffickers ramped up production of synthetic opioids. “It is a new, deeper, more deadly threat than we have ever seen, and I don’t think that the full extent of that harm was immediately seen in 2015,” she said. Agents say street-level demand for fentanyl is rising fast because so many new users are getting hooked. More than nine million Americans “misused opioids” in 2020. The Department of Health and Human Services has not tracked the rise of fentanyl and does not know how many are using it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unable to track overdose deaths in real-time. Its published data is one year behind. The agency continues to count the death toll for 2021 — in a provisional tally seven months ago, it calculated the overall number of drug overdoses at 107,622. Two-thirds were due to fentanyl. When President Richard Nixon launched the first war on drugs 51 years ago, annual overdose deaths stood at 6,771.

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