President Trump visited our border with Mexico last week for more wall promotion and saber-rattling. It was essentially a photo-op event.
Trump is correct about two aspects of his build-the-wall mantra — there is a human crisis at the border, and too many illegal drugs are coming into this country from points south and elsewhere.
That is the route America’s No. 1 overdose killer — fentanyl — travels into the United States, and into the bodies of the millions of Americans now hooked on a dangerous substance.
Fentanyl isn’t the only illegal invader. Tons of other drugs, including heroin, cocaine and marijuana, cross our border with Mexico every month, and no matter how much interdiction we do on this side of the border, the flow continues, virtually uninterrupted.
The reason those drugs keep coming across is obvious — there is an insatiable thirst for illegal drugs in this country. American citizens are basically fueling the illegal drug industry and financing murderous cartels south of the border.
Most of those illegal drugs cross the border at designated ports of entry. It’s not a lone drug mule slinging a bag of marijuana over minimalist barriers along the 2,000 miles of border. It’s highly sophisticated delivery in commercial vehicles, waiting patiently in line for a cursory inspection by our overworked and understaffed border guards.
No matter who wins this never-ending war, it’s pretty clear America cannot afford the costs.
America’s opioid epidemic has resulted in drug overdose deaths at record numbers, now killing more than 70,000 a year and costing billions. If car crashes killed that many, a president and Congress would be up in arms, making laws.
Drugs kill more Americans each year than guns, car crashes, or HIV/AIDS have in any single year in our country’s history. Studies confirms that the level of U.S. overdose deaths is far beyond the norm for wealthy nations worldwide. In fact, this nation has led the planet in drug overdose fatalities just about every year since the mid-1990s.
We cannot address the drug problem at the border until we also address the addiction problem in this country. As long as there is a market for illegal drugs in America, there will be drugs flowing across our border.
There are steps we could take on this side. In too many cases, painkillers are being passed out like candy. With regard to fentanyl, something could be done to compel prescribers to cut back on excess opioid painkiller prescriptions. That alone could prevent more people from misusing the drug, but the rules need to ensure that patients who truly need them have access.
Harm-reduction strategies, such as needle exchanges and more distribution of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, would help a lot.
This is a huge problem. A recent study concluded that more than 10 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 or older has used an illicit drug in the past month. That means millions of Americans admit to using banned substances or using prescription drugs recreationally. Imagine what the number would be if everyone were truthful about their drug use.
Fentanyl is currently the biggest problem, because it kills so easily. The pipeline for that drug begins mainly in China, and runs straight through Mexican cartels along well-established drug-trafficking routes. About 80 percent of fentanyl comes through the San Diego border before dispersing throughout the U.S.
As it turns out, there are several crises at the border, and all are impacting human lives in a very negative way. Our elected leaders need to step up.