This editorial by Paul Babeu was published in The Arizona Republic on June 7, 2018. Paul Babeu was Pinal County sheriff from 2009-17 and is the former president of Arizona Sheriff’s Association.
How An Open Border With Mexico Makes The Opioid Crisis Worse
My eight years as the sheriff in a border state allowed me to see how drug traffickers use our open southern border to smuggle illegal drugs like heroin or meth, as well as counterfeit knockoffs that look like legitimate pharmaceutical drugs but often contain dangerous and deadly amounts of fentanyl.
Our largely unsecured border allows criminal traffickers the freedom to import and market illicit drugs that exacerbate the addiction crisis in America. The rate at which these illegal drugs cross our borders is truly alarming.
Most fentanyl is seized on the border
In 2014, 8 pounds of fentanyl from Mexico was seized by US border agents in the Southwest; in 2015, 200 pounds of fentanyl was seized. From October 2016 to August 2017, about 950 pounds of fentanyl was seized nationwide — and more than half of it (550 pounds) was seized at the San Diego and Tucson field offices on the Mexico border.
As sheriff, my office led the largest drug bust ($2 billion) in Arizona history against Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Most people are unaware of the routes, the market, the quantities, the potencies, the purity and the lethality of these counterfeit drugs – but those facts are staggering.
The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that:
Fentanyl can be 50 times as potent as heroin.
Even the smallest amount – about 2 milligrams, or about 4 grains of salt – is deadly.
Its chemical cousin, carfentanil, is even more deadly — just a single grain can kill.
Domestic prescriptions aren't the problem
Congress has looked at doctors and prescription abuse and addressed issues there, but illegal sourcing has been ignored. According to the U.S. Health and Human Services, every day 116 people die from opioid-related drug overdoses. In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses — but a majority of those were caused by illegal synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Over the last several years, the availability of controlled prescription drugs, and overdose deaths from prescription opioids alone, has declined significantly with federal and state policy interventions.
The closure of illegal clinics allowing prescription opioids on the black market, and efforts by medical professionals to engage in responsible prescribing practices, have made rapid improvements.
Border security must be part of the solution
The problem now is not doctors and legitimate prescriptions. It is criminals and illegal drugs. These illegal drugs are being trafficked into the U.S. by criminal smugglers primarily from Mexico and China. Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, the criminal enterprise once led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, is a driving force in the surge in fentanyl crossing the border.
Currently, 80 percent of the illegal fentanyl seized by the DEA has been traced to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Illegal opioids are being imported into our country through and from Mexico on a daily basis. These are being sourced by Chinese factories and Mexican cartels.
These highly addictive and very potent synthetic opioids now kill Americans every day, and the death toll keeps rising.
It is time for congressional hearings on this aspect of the opioid crises. It’s not enough to look at domestic production, physician prescription practices and pharmacy record keeping. We need to address the real problem at the source — our open border and the illegally manufactured and criminally trafficked drugs that cross it.
Our nation needs congressional hearings on how easily illegal fentanyl from Mexico and China is slipping across our borders and harming Americans. I urge the House and Senate to convene hearings and flesh out the facts here.
A true solution to the opioid crisis must include a look at border security.