Time to Take the Fentanyl Scourge Seriously

Funeral service for Jayla McBroom, victim of a fentanyl overdose. Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

Drug dealers are lacing opioids, marijuana and cocaine with  fentanyl in the Washington area, reports The Washington Post. The city medical examiner identified the super-addictive and often deadly drug in 95% of the 85 overdose deaths through March this year. Law enforcement authorities are seeing similar increases in fentanyl overdoses in Arlington and Alexandria as well.

Writes the Post:

Emily Bentley, Alexandria’s opioid response coordinator, attributes the recent spike to dealers lacing substances with the cheaper, more addictive fentanyl. She noted that unsuspecting marijuana users may be taking drugs laced with the synthetic opioid, broadening the types of drug users who could be impacted.

Society has not yet come to grips with the fentanyl scourge. If we thought crack cocaine was bad in the 1980s, fentanyl is worse. Fentanyl is cheap, like crack, but it is even more addictive — reportedly 50 times more potent than heroin. Dealers have discovered they can create a market for their product by mixing it with other drugs. Thousands of Americans are dying.

How do we deal with this? Perhaps legalizing and tightly regulating marijuana will help. Creating a legitimate marijuana industry will keep the trade out of the hands of fentanyl dealers who contaminate the weed as a way to hook new users. But what about cocaine, heroin and other illegal substances? Do we legalize them, too, on the grounds that only a legal-but-regulated industry can guarantee safety? Or is that a bridge too far?

Another tack is to treat fentanyl dealers as the ruthless, conscienceless, and murderous scum-suckers that they are. Law enforcement should prioritize locking them up. If it can be demonstrated in court that a drug dealer laced a drug with fentanyl, and if a customer unwittingly consumed the powerful narcotic and died as a result, the dealer should be convicted of homicide, thrown into prison, and never let out again.

A crack-down-on-fentanyl movement might run into resistance from the end-mass-incarceration-crowd, especially if it turns out that fentanyl distributors are disproportionately Black. I have no idea if that’s the case; I’m just pointing out the political reality. But here’s another reality: In Washington, D.C., according to the Post, fentanyl overdoses are occurring disproportionately among African-Americans. Forty-six percent of the city’s population is Black, but four out of five overdoses deaths are of Blacks.

If our society truly cares about the well being of all Black people — as opposed to the well being of the tiny fraction of Blacks who have violent encounters with law enforcement — then we need to take this scourge seriously. We can start by taking murderous drug dealers off the streets.