Congress is about to screw up the drug overdose crisis

· April 10, 2018  
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(The first four parts of this series on the “opioid crisis” are here, here, here, and here.)

Perhaps if Bashar Assad was the one who came to Mexico and orchestrated the heroin/fentanyl/carfentanil warfare on this country, we’d treat it like the chemical warfare attack that it truly is.

The politicians are still blind to nature of the illicit drug/chemical warfare crisis in this country that they misleadingly refer to as a prescription opioid crisis. The good news is that Congress has made this issue the top legislative priority for the coming month. The bad news is that, as we have noted in our continuous series of articles, legislators are completely misdiagnosing the problem, ignoring the data showing both what the crisis actually is and what caused it. As such, their solutions are making the problem worse, as they focus exclusively on government practicing medicine, monitoring patients, restricting prescriptions and even morphine use in hospitals (not just outpatient prescriptions), and shoveling billions of dollars to special interest health care cartels to “treat” a problem they refuse to properly identify.

This week, four House and Senate committees will hold hearings and analyze over 30 pieces of legislation to address the “opioid crisis.” Almost all of the hearings, witness testimony, and legislation fail to address the core problems causing the alarming flood of illicit drugs: Mexican cartels, transnational gangs, open borders, and sanctuary cities. To the extent that this is a health care issue, they refuse to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the role of the Medicaid expansion fueling over-use of pain killers among Medicaid patients, a population inherently vulnerable to addiction, while they severely restrict use of much-needed pain killers for other patients.

Many hearings without the basic facts

Before Easter break, the House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed roughly 30 bills and draft bills to combat the drug overdose crisis. This week, they will consider another 34 bills. Many of them will deal with more government funding through Medicare and Medicaid to “treat” addiction. Witnesses will be brought in from the insurance and health care conglomerate cartel. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will examine local programs that are funded by taxpayers. The Senate HELP Committee will explore legislation that will essentially take the state monitoring programs and pave the road for a national prescription database.

All of these hearings feature heads of organizations and programs that stand to benefit from endless taxpayer funds. Roughly $6 billion in additional funding has been shoveled to these programs in the two recent budget bills. They have every incentive to focus exclusively on health care and prescriptions while ignoring the overwhelming facts of illicit drug trafficking. The only hearing that appears to be on message is a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism hearing to explore how to combat fentanyl, which is the real killer.

Here is the one hearing that nobody plans to hold: Exploring the basic data of which drugs have killed people in which states, over what period of time, and what are the current trends. If they held such a hearing, they would discover that prescriptions plummeted before the crisis and that the present crisis, starting in 2013, has all been fueled by illicit drugs. They would discover that hospitals now have a severe shortage of basic painkillers, while deaths are skyrocketing from illicit drugs.

If government is going to practice medicine, it should first properly diagnose the migraine headache before amputating the toe.

The data is still very murky, because the government continues to conflate prescription deaths with illicit drug deaths. But it is the job of Congress to get to the truth of the matter before prescribing potent legislative narcotics for a major public policy issue.

The true scope of our illicit drug problem

Although there is no complete national data on drug overdoses for 2017, the CDC recently published preliminary data comparing the 12-month period ending August 31, 2017, to the comparable period ending the previous year, August 31, 2016. The data shows that the unconscionable number of 59,417 deaths in the first year rose another 13.3 percent to 67,344 in the period ending August 2017. However, coinciding with what I’ve seen in complete 2017 data from many of the hardest-hit states, the entirety of the increase was from illicit drugs. Just 14,344 of the over 67,000 deaths were from prescription opioids. Among the big killers, fentanyl was by far the biggest problem, increasing from 15,000 deaths to 25,000 deaths, a 66 percent increase (after skyrocketing the previous year).

But it’s important to note that fentanyl wasn’t the only illicit drug that was responsible for the increase in deaths. Cocaine and meth usage deaths skyrocketed as well. Cocaine overdoses rose by 44 percent and deaths from psychostimulants (mainly meth) rose by 31 percent. This is a trend we have seen since 2013, when the borders were opened wide for the drug cartels. Heroin deaths, which have been skyrocketing ever since the border crisis of Obama’s second term, have finally leveled off and have been supplanted by fentanyl deaths. In Maryland, deaths from both fentanyl and cocaine nearly doubled.

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Heroin is a natural, opiate while Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate. But cocaine and meth are not opiate-based at all, which demonstrates, once again, that this is not an opioid crisis, but a general illicit drug problem induced by the cheap supply coming from the Mexican drug cartels, facilitated by our open borders.

As we know from examining the data, this is not just about opioid addiction. Due to the cultural problems of mental illness, depression, and kids looking for a buzz, all sorts of stimulants and illicit drugs will be abused as long as they are available for cheap thanks to open borders. Even Ritalin and Adderall abuse is surging across the country. Abuse of tranquilizers and sedatives are increasing as well. In Maryland, deaths from benzodiazepines doubled since 2011. This will continue to happen even if we cure all physical pain and don’t need any painkillers, much less opioids. For Congress to continue shutting off prescriptions and even creating a scarcity of morphine inside hospitals while doing nothing to attack the supply of deadly chemical warfare against our country is the height of government malpractice. The people who badly need painkillers after an operation and who never abuse drugs will suffer, while those who abuse them will continue to find the worst drugs imaginable on the cheap black market.

Ironically, most people who abuse illicit and prescription drugs now are those who have been prone to abuse drugs or suffer from depression and other mental problems. But if government continues to shut off the supply of painkillers for legitimate pain patients, it will create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and even those who would never have thought about taking illicit drugs will turn to them in desperation.

The prescription of opioids peaked in 2008-2010 and has dramatically been cut back since then, falling to pre-2002 levels in many states. We have a government and insurance cartel dictating the terms of use – first pushing the medical profession into using opioid painkillers and now dramatically restricting them. But what is clear is that there is no room to restrict them further with across-the-board government metrics without creating the worst possible outcome of record overdose deaths and ubiquitous pain and desperation for those who need relief.

Before Congress shovels coal into this runaway train, it should go back to the station and study up on the basics – and stop making worse a problem that they helped create.

Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.