The Republican Narrative Undermines the Welfare of our Relatives and Neighbors Addicted to Opioids like Fentanyl.
Bea Dixon, PhD, Democratic Political Activist
Imagine learning every day that a plane with 180 Americans on board crashed! That’s how many Americans die every day from an overdose of opioids, including fentanyl. 1
What is the cause of this national crisis?
A common Republican narrative is that the crisis is due to illegal immigration across an “open border”. For example:
- In January 2023, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) claimed, “Last year alone, we lost over 100,000 young people to deaths from drugs like fentanyl because we have an open southern border.”2
- On Nov 29, 2022, Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) claimed that enough fentanyl was seized at the border to kill the entire US population 7 times over and that the answer is to prioritize the safety of Americans by building the wall.3
- On Nov 29, 2021, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) cited fentanyl seizures as a sign of “Biden’s Border Crisis.”4
But this narrative is false:
- Fentanyl is not primarily trafficked by illegal immigrants. Over 90% of fentanyl border seizures are from U.S. citizens, mostly at points of entry.5
- Only a small minority of fentanyl seizures occur at interior checkpoints during apprehensions of people who have illegally crossed the border.5
- The opioid crisis was not created by Biden. In 2020, under Trump, the amount of fentanyl seized at the border accelerated dramatically and there were 95,000 overdose deaths in our country.5
- In 2021, U.S. citizens accounted for 86.3% of fentanyl trafficking convictions compared to just 8.9 percent for illegal immigrants.6
So, if illegal immigration due to an “open border” is not the problem what is the true narrative?
Two decades ago pharmaceutical companies began promoting the use of opioids as painkillers leading to a large increase in addictions. Practice guidelines eventually restricted distribution of painkillers from pharmacies leading to growth of the illegal market, dominated by the opioid fentanyl because it is cheap, manufactured in China and India for drug cartels in Mexico.7
Because fentanyl is much more potent than heroin and morphine, it can be transported in very small quantities. Also, it can be added to other drugs and made to look like legitimate medication.
All of this means that addressing the fentanyl crisis requires a multi-faceted approach.8 Improved law enforcement is one aspect: Biden’s 2023 budget proposes more funding for seizing drugs at border crossings9 and, just recently, the FBI arrested key cartel individuals.10 Another approach by the Biden Administration is prevention and treatment of addictions including:
- Appropriation of $3 billion in funds through The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to allow states to target addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.11
- Ending prior restrictions to enable doctors, through the 2023 Omnibus Bill, to more easily prescribe buprenorphine—an effective medication for opioid abuse.12
- Approval this year by the Food and Drug Administration of the first over-the-counter opioid treatment, Naloxone, a drug which saves lives by rapidly reversing overdose.13
- Two billion in additional funding by the National Institute of Health for research projects to improve access to addiction treatment in a wide variety of justice and community settings.14
The Republican scapegoating of immigrants by focusing on “the open border” as the cause of the fentanyl crisis is a dangerous and irresponsible tactic that does not prioritize but actually risks American lives. This attack on the Biden Administration for “creating” the crisis further undermines focus on true solutions that would help our family members and neighbors who are on self-destructive paths.
It is imperative that we strongly resist elected officials who present us with such false narratives designed to stoke fear and anger. Our personal and collective welfare is at stake.
1 Kaiser Foundation: www.kff.org
6 U.S. Sentencing Commission, “Commission Datafiles,” 2018-2021.
7 American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis – and How to End It, by Ryan Hampton. All Points Books, 2018
8 The Opioid Epidemic Demands Public Health Solutions, Not False Claims About Immigration – Center for American Progress