Drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 30 percent nationwide last year. Recent data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show this record high was fueled by the pandemic and the rise of fentanyl abuse. In Arkansas, fentanyl has surpassed methamphetamine as the leading cause of overdose deaths.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid most commonly found in counterfeit pills. Just days ago the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued its first safety alert in six years warning about the “alarming” increase in fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine.
The agency has seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills this year. If that rate continues there will be more counterfeit pills confiscated in 2021 than in the previous three years combined.
The stories of overdose victims, and the heartache of families affected by their loved ones’ addiction and overdose experiences, have impacted us all. There is no part of our country left untouched by illicit fentanyl. It has the same devastating consequences in urban and rural areas.
Natural State law enforcement officers are working to keep drugs off the streets in order to prevent fatal poisoning. In late September, the Springdale Police Department made an arrest of a drug trafficker and seized thousands of dollars of drugs, including fentanyl, with a potential street value of $52,000.
The Fort Smith region’s drug task force coordinator recently told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that officers have seen an uptick in fentanyl and estimates there have been “10-20 monthly arrests related to fentanyl in the last six months.”
Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane says illicit fentanyl has been identified by the law enforcement and judicial communities as a growing problem. That’s why Arkansas prosecuting attorneys spearheaded efforts to strengthen state laws to hold criminals and drug smugglers accountable. The state legislature approved stricter regulations this year, giving us another tool to ensure the criminals perpetuating this problem are brought to justice and our communities are safer.
Combatting the rise in fentanyl requires more than providing law enforcement the tools and resources to get this drug off the streets. We must form a comprehensive government approach to help those addicted get the treatment they need and also prevent the flow of drugs across our border.
Illicit fentanyl is being funneled into the U.S., in large part, by Mexican cartels that are exploiting the disorder at our southern border and smuggling this deadly substance into our country. Fentanyl seizures along the border have risen dramatically this year. In June, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents confiscated more than 1,000 pounds of it – enough to kill 238 million Americans.
Protecting American lives should be reason enough for President Biden to take immediate steps to secure the border. Unfortunately, his reversal of commonsense border policies has helped contribute to the current crisis. We’ve seen how these failed strategies have overwhelmed Border Patrol agents and small towns along the border with Mexico. It’s clear it also has consequences for the safety of Arkansans.
In order to get serious about the fentanyl emergency, border security must be prioritized and achieved. Preventing illegal border crossings will help decrease the opportunities drug-traffickers have to get their dangerous and deadly drugs onto our streets.