Enforcement needed to reduce fentanyl overdoses

Last year, drug overdose deaths increased to almost 100,000 Americans, and West Virginia was not spared.

One reason for the alarming surge is the growth of deadly fentanyl – a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Deaths from fentanyl overdose increased 87 percent across the Mountain State in just one year, according to the most recent statistics. County-specific data shows increases in fentanyl-related deaths of 100 percent or more in Berkeley, Harrison, Kanawha, Marion and other locales during the same time period.

This reality is terrible, but we can avoid further deaths from fentanyl if we attack this problem from all sides.

That could mean anything from assisting local police officers to seeking broader change at the federal level to enforce the laws of the land and keep American citizens safe.

Since West Virginia cannot singlehandedly police its own borders, it must rely on the federal government to secure our borders against fentanyl and other illegal drugs.

America’s southern border is of particular concern, as reports indicate fentanyl is increasingly smuggled overland across the U.S.-Mexico border for the Mexican drug cartels.

These national immigration matters are having an impact right here in West Virginia. As such, our office is putting pressure on President Joe Biden’s Administration to act.

This includes our June letter calling out U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his hasty decision to do away with the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy without due consideration of the impact it would have on efforts to stop drug smuggling.

This decision makes it clear that stopping fentanyl trafficking and drug cartel activity isn’t a priority for this Administration, which has essentially allowed holes to be poked in America’s borders and enabled drug traffickers to enter the country.

Such reckless abandon for the wellbeing of American citizens led our office to file a lawsuit against Secretary Mayorkas in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, asking the court to find cancellation of Remain in Mexico rash and ill-considered.

Our lawsuit draws a line in the sand – the Department of Homeland Security must place fentanyl at the forefront of its decision-making process.

But any effort by the Biden Administration to fight drug trafficking shouldn’t only focus on the border – it should extend to West Virginia and all Americans.

We rely on federal prosecutors to hold accountable those who would attempt to poison our population by bringing drugs into the state.

Our office recently called upon President Biden to nominate federal prosecutors for West Virginia who will tackle fentanyl trafficking in a cooperative, bipartisan manner.

We urged the President to ensure his United States Attorney appointees recognize the severity of the situation and put aside any other policy differences to work with us in combating overdose deaths. On August 10, the White House announced the appointments of William J. Ihlenfeld and William S. Thompson for these key positions. I am confident they will indeed work hard with everyone in our state to combat fentanyl trafficking, regardless of politics.

Across the board, the federal government must show its commitment to protect the people of our state and others that are struggling under the weight of this unprecedented overdose crisis.

Deadly fentanyl is not only flooding into the Mountain State – it’s happening all across America. Stopping that flow must be a Biden Administration priority.

Indeed, too many lives have already been lost, and no state can tackle this crisis alone.

It will take a collaborative, concerted effort to combat fentanyl trafficking and reduce senseless death to help our nation and West Virginia reach their full potential.

(Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.)


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