Sheriff of Larimer County, Colorado: Importing prescription drugs could be dangerous

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This editorial by Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith was published in The Coloradoan on March 23, 2019. Sheriff Smith is the Sheriff of Larimer County, Colorado.

Sheriff Justin Smith: Importing prescription drugs could be dangerous

Being on the frontlines of Colorado’s battle against illicit drugs, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the storm clouds are moving in.

The opioid crisis is wreaking havoc on Colorado and is morphing into an overdose crisis. We lost more than 1,000 Coloradans to drug overdoses in 2017. Based on what we observe every day, this is driven by two concerning trends; overdoses from methamphetamine continue to climb, and more concerningly, the number of fentanyl-related overdoses has jumped sharply, reversing a downturn in deaths from opioids.

While the loss of life is and will continue to be the main story in this crisis, the prevalence of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl is a significant concern. We have seen what this powerful drug has done to states east of the Rockies and we don’t want to repeat that experience in Colorado.

Over the last five years, my county has witnessed a 75 percent increase in felony cases, the vast majority of them related directly or indirectly to illegal drug use.

Over the last eight years, we have experienced nearly a 30 percent increase in our jail population, an unfortunate reversal of the trend of declining inmate numbers during the decade prior. And last year in Larimer County alone, we lost 20 people to drug overdoses.

While we are fighting the drug abuse issues we already face, I'm deeply concerned about any changes that could compound this problem, such as legalizing the importation of foreign prescription drugs from unknown sources in foreign countries.

Working with our state and federal partners on our drug enforcement task force, we are seeing the advent of fentanyl-laced counterfeit opioids. This is simply terrifying.

These dangerous drugs get trafficked into Colorado and present a clear and present danger to unsuspecting citizens, who can die from simply ingesting what they think are safe medications. Importing foreign drugs would open a loophole, which increases the chance these dangerous counterfeits enter America unbeknownst to us all.

I join the many law enforcement leaders, including the National Sheriffs’ Association, who have already voiced their concerns about drug importation. I am gravely concerned that the state of Colorado is actively considering a proposal to legalize foreign drug importation – this is flat out dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

Last year, America’s sheriffs wrote to President Trump to voice their concerns about similar proposals. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has also studied importation proposals and found that it would be a boon to criminal organizations that would take advantage of this new loophole, especially since we can’t arrest and potentially not even prosecute these foreign actors.

And the dangerous fentanyl-laced counterfeit drugs they traffic are likely to worsen the opioid crisis. We simply don’t know and can’t control what these foreign actors would import.

Simply put, a bad batch of foreign prescription drugs, and people die.

Even the past four FDA commissioners have noted that the agency lacks the resources to safely regulate importation.

Colorado’s overdose crisis will not be eradicated with simply more officers on the street. We will stay vigilant, but we need to eliminate the problem at the source, and that means ensuring importation of foreign prescription drugs never happens in the first place, so dangerous foreign counterfeit drugs don’t become part of Colorado’s issues.