Both sides misunderstand the fentanyl crisis – and put our children at risk

The Drug Enforcement Administration is warning the public of a new, widespread threat targeting children. In a statement released this week, the DEA reported on the proliferation of “rainbow fentanyl” — fentanyl pills in bright rainbow colors that look like candy, to appeal to young people. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin and is causing a record number of overdose deaths. According to the CDC, over 150 people die from opioid-related overdoses every day, reaching a record 100,000 last year.

Record amounts of drugs also poured in from the southern border. In 2020, Customs and Border Protection reported seizures of over $533,705 worth of drugs.

With these drugs pouring in from Mexico, the conservative right has been quick to blame the Biden administration’s border policies for the influx of rainbow fentanyl, which has led to a record number of migrants crossing the border illegally. But that’s almost certainly not the real cause of the fentanyl crisis.

Even though more than the half of Americans blame migrants for the increase in fentanyl-related deaths large majority Fentanyl is smuggled through official ports of entry, covert trucks and vehicles. Only a small amount is smuggled across the border between these ports, NPR reported, and almost none of it from individual migrants. In other words, the fentanyl gets hidden in legally crossing vehicles, so it has almost nothing to do with Biden’s border policy. As the Brookings Institute pointed out, many of the drugs are hidden between giant container ships and airplanes.

Rainbow Fentanyl
Oregon sheriff’s deputies recently arrested a person who was in possession of Rainbow Fentanyl, and officials warn it could be used to target children and young adults.
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office

In addition, we know that 75 percent of heroin and fentanyl users started using prescription opioids sourced directly from the United States. As someone who has been a drug addict myself, I know this first hand. The person who got me addicted to drugs wasn’t a migrant who crossed the border, but my own doctor.

As a recovering drug addict with 10 years of sobriety and years of experience working with other addicts, I know we need to start asking what are the reasons our children want to use drugs in the first place.

And we know what they are. The National Institute on Substance Abuse has outlined the five major risk factors for substance abuse: early aggressive behavior, lack of parental supervision, peer pressure, drug availability, and poverty. Other factors such as neglect, physical or sexual abuse, and living in a household with high levels of parenting and economic stress can also contribute.

Meanwhile, the Harvard School of Public Health examined how the pandemic accelerated the youth mental health crisis, fueled by lockdowns and increased social media use.

These things are all related. As a recovering addict, I can tell you that drug use is a mechanism for managing poor mental health. Our children are struggling and they don’t have the resources to get help. We don’t even have enough teachers, let alone mental health professionals in schools.

It might be easier to blame the Biden administration’s border policies, but that’s not really going to help our kids. What will help is understanding why they are so desperate to even turn to fentanyl. But sadly, neither side seems willing to do so. While the right blames the border, the left doesn’t talk about it at all. Her complicity in the mental health crisis makes it all but certain that it won’t become a big priority. Meanwhile, the funerals continue.

Of course, additional resources for border protection would definitely help. But that won’t do much to get Congress to stand up to Big Pharma, or help kids resist peer pressure.

What we need is to address the child mental health crisis. Until we do, the cartels will keep winning, and we’ll keep going to funerals.

Chris Boutté is the host of The Rewired Soul podcast and the author of HOPE and Caught in the Crossfire. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @TheRewiredSoul.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. Both sides misunderstand the fentanyl crisis – and put our children at risk

Rick Schindler

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