Federal agents seized twice as much fentanyl along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 compared to 2020.
Republicans and conservative media are criticizing President Joe Biden over the number of U.S. fentanyl deaths by making false claims about the White House's supposed "open-border policy" — all while conveniently ignoring the Biden administration's slate of programs aimed at combating the deadly drug.
Ahead of the 2022 midterms, Republicans are latching onto reports about fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and often mixed into other drugs on the black market.
"Biden and Congressional Democrats’ open-border policies have allowed for fentanyl to flow across our borders and into our communities," the House Republicans' Twitter account wrote on Monday.
"Joe Biden and House Democrats’ failed open border policies have allowed criminal drug networks to flood the United States more easily with fentanyl," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) echoed on Monday. "It’s time to secure the Southern Border."
"Make no mistake – Biden's open border policies have contributed to fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-45," Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) wrote Monday.
Fox News has also homed in on the crisis, publishing a number of stories about fentanyl deaths in recent weeks and devoting airtime to blaming "Biden's border failures" as a Jan. 29 chyron described, for the influx of drugs.
But the Biden administration has acted aggressively to restrict the flow of fentanyl across the U.S.-Mexico border. In Biden's first year as president, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized roughly 800 pounds of fentanyl every month along the Southwest border — twice as much as the agency collected under former President Donald Trump in 2020.
According to the CDC, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses during a 12-month period ending in April 2021 — an increase of 28.5% compared to the previous year. In 2021, fentanyl was the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45.
In 2021, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than 15,000 pounds of the drug and more than 20 million fake prescription pills. Local law enforcement agencies across the country have also carried out several large fentanyl busts this month.
On Feb. 1, the federal law enforcement agency launched "Operation Overdrive," a program aimed at combating "drug-related violent crime and overdose deaths" with "a data-driven, intelligence-led approach to identify and dismantle criminal drug networks operating in areas with the highest rates of violence and overdoses."
"DEA's objective is clear," Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement on Monday. "DEA will bring all it has to bear to make our communities safer and healthier and to reverse the devastating trends of drug-related violence and overdoses plaguing our nation. The gravity of these threats requires a data-driven approach to pinpoint the most dangerous networks threatening our communities, and leveraging our strongest levers across federal, state, and local partners to bring them down."
Since Biden took office in January 2021, the White House has marshaled a number of federal programs to rein in fentanyl deaths. In September, the Biden administration recommended that Congress permanently place fentanyl under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act.
"By acting on these recommendations, Congress can take decisive action against the fastest growing driver of overdoses in the country, while protecting civil rights and encouraging scientific research," Regina LaBelle, the White House's Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy, said at the time.
Federal agencies have also launched education campaigns to inform citizens about the dangers of the drug and how to spot deadly counterfeit pills. In September, the DEA unveiled its "One Pill Can Kill" initiative to reach young adults on social media about the dangers of counterfeit pills, where fentanyl is falsely marketed as a prescription painkiller like oxycodone.
In October, the public health agency launched a new "Stop Overdose" program focused on educating Americans on the difference between pharmaceutical fentanyl, a painkiller prescribed to treat intense pain, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which often gets mixed in with other drugs like cocaine and heroin.
The CDC also announced last April that public health departments across the country could use federal funds to purchase fentanyl test strips — a harm reduction measure that allows people to test drugs that may have been laced with fentanyl before using.
"We must do all we can to save lives from drug overdoses," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement at the time. "The increase in drug overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids such as illicitly made fentanyl is a public health crisis that requires immediate action and novel strategies. State and local programs now have another tool to add to their on-the-ground efforts toward reducing and preventing overdoses, in particular fentanyl-related overdose deaths."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.