What to do about fentanyl? Good question. Now that our streets are flooded with the stuff, let’s do something! But what? Not surprisingly, there’s some disagreement.
I’ve read opinion pieces in the national media posing it as a straightforward choice. Should we wage all-out war on fentanyl, the way our nation did against crack? Heavy emphasis on law enforcement, interdiction at the southern border, harsh penalties including mandatory sentencing guidelines for judges. Police officers showing grisly films in elementary school classrooms? Some of you are no doubt rolling your eyes at the thought, but there is continuing support for this strategy in plenty of American communities. Here’s something recent from the pen of a syndicated columnist:
Or maybe you favor one of the alternative approaches. Perhaps not outright legalization– these drugs are pretty darn scary, after all– but what about decriminalizing them, the way we did with alcohol and now with cannabis, and will probably do with hallucinogens in the near future?
Then we can license and regulate sales, collect taxes to fund other projects, maybe even provide treatment for the users? The black market will presumably fade away from disuse.
Might be a bit late for that. Too many pipelines already open for shipment of contraband from places like Mexico and China. Even if we could stop the flow of product into the US, what would prevent black market chemists from mixing and making the same drugs in their own labs, here in the US, for sale domestically? And as always, price-undercut the legitimate stuff.
Besides, much of the fentanyl in circulation is in the form of an additive to some other drug– cocaine, for instance, or methamphetamine, or one of the many sedatives. Means users may not know what lays in wait for them when they swallow, snort or inject something.
Then there’s the reality that other substances have already appeared on the street that are even more hazardous than fentanyl. For example, carfentanil. According to a recent article in a toxicology journal, “In mid-2016, carfentanil emerged as a contaminant in street heroin in the USA and was central to a large number of emergency department visits and deaths.”
Seven years ago. What’s to prevent a black marketeer from making and selling that? And what we do about it?
I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a solution for this one. It’s bound to involve a level of complexity that defies the sort of remedies we’ve relied on in the past. We’ll have to improvise as we go.
Meanwhile, Texas’ governor has at long last abandoned his opposition to decriminalizing fentanyl test strips. Now people found in possession of them won’t be arrested.
I suppose that’s a kind of progress.