Opioid fix

15Mar18

I wanted to know what could be done about the opioid epidemic, so I decided to seek out some public policy experts. Unfortunately, Wakefield High School was closed yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Board of Selectmen in Wakefield, MA is doing something. They have decided that the town will join hundreds of municipalities nationwide in filing lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers that are said to be fueling the nation’s drug abuse crisis.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But prescription opioids are just the tip of the addiction iceberg. The real killers are the street drugs like heroin and, increasingly, fentanyl.

It’s going to take a lot more to solve the opioid crisis than forcing chronic pain sufferers to visit the pharmacy more often for smaller quantities of Percocet.

These legal, prescription painkillers like Oxycodone and Vicodin have been widely blamed for ushering in the drug crisis. But prescribing of those drugs has been falling since 2011 due to policies by government, medical and law enforcement officials designed to reverse years of overprescribing.

The majority of opioid deaths now involve illegal drugs, especially the ultra-potent fentanyl. Deaths from fentanyl and related drugs like heroin doubled in 2016, to more than 19,000, dragging down Americans’ life expectancy for the second year in a row.

According to a report in the July 27, 2017 Boston Globe, “Last year, opioids were linked to 2,069 deaths in Massachusetts, a 15 percent increase from the year before. Fentanyl was found in 69 percent of those deaths in which a toxicology screen was available.”

That same Globe story says that “Mexican cartels are delivering vast quantities of the inexpensive and powerful synthetic drug fentanyl to New England, causing the highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths in the nation.”

As early as 2001, the US Department of Justice reported that, “In Greater Boston, the state’s primary regional distribution center, Colombian Drug Trafficking Organizations operate at the highest levels of the heroin trade, and Dominican trafficking organizations and distribution groups are believed to constitute 80 to 90 percent of the middle and lower levels.”

Not much has changed in the ensuing 17 years, according to another Boston Globe story from last July.

“In Lawrence, a major gateway for the fentanyl that reaches New Hampshire and Maine, distribution is handled primarily by Dominicans — many in the country illegally — who have established a working relationship with the cartels.”

A 2017 study commissioned by the Boston Police Department found that “The majority of individuals arrested last year for Class A drug trafficking in the city of Boston were not U.S. citizens and most of those non-citizens were Dominican foreign nationals.” The report goes on to say that the data “would suggest that heroin trafficking in Boston is largely controlled by Dominican drug organizations.”

Any serious attempt to get a handle on the epidemic of opioid addiction will have to involve securing the southern border and incarcerating or deporting the distributors, most of whom are here illegally. Unfortunately, in some quarters there is very little appetite for those solutions, so they go after doctors and the drug companies instead.

I wonder how many so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials, even when it comes to illegal alien drug dealers, will be participating in these class action suits against the pharmaceutical companies.

It would also be interesting to know how many cities and states that have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana will be joining these lawsuits. What kind of message is being sent when a state or a community sanctions the sale or use of a recreational drug, and then sues the manufacturers of a medical one?

Wakefield at least has been unwavering on the latter score. The Board of Selectmen has consistently opposed the legalization of pot or its sale within the town. Wakefield voters have also opposed the legalization or sale of marijuana every time they’ve had an opportunity to vote on the issue.

So, by all means go after the pharmaceutical companies and crooked doctors overprescribing prescription painkillers.

But to really make a dent in opioid deaths it’s going to mean doing the difficult work of choking off the foreign supply of heroin and fentanyl and eliminating the distributors, including illegal aliens.

If you’re not willing to attack it on all fronts, then you’re not really serious about fixing the problem of opioid addiction.

[This column originally appeared in the March 15, Wakefield Daily Item.]



No Responses Yet to “Opioid fix”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: