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Op/ed: Stopping Fentanyl at the Border Won’t Work

UMD Researcher Calls for Refocusing Drug Enforcement on Crime, Violence, Corruption—Not Trying to Choke Supply

By Jonathan Caulkins and Peter Reuter

photographs of seized fentanyl, weapons and other illicit drugs

Photographs of fentanyl siezed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are displayed for the media in Nogales, Ariz., in February. Despite such efforts, the potent narcotic is too easy to manufacture and smuggle to effectively stop at the border, necessitating new approaches, a UMD researcher writes.

Photo by Kitra Cahana for The Washington Post via Getty Images

As a synthetic drug, fentanyl production is not limited by the need for fields, farm workers or fair weather, while its extreme potency makes it easy to smuggle in large quantities. Replacing an interdicted shipment is also cheap.

This leading contributor to U.S. overdoses illustrates the impracticality of a drug law enforcement strategy based on keeping it out of the country, writes public policy and criminology and criminal justice Distinguished University Professor Peter Reuter in a new essay with Professor Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie-Mellon University published yesterday in Scientific American. Instead, law enforcement should focus on limiting sales of the drug—particularly to new users—and on helping Mexico and Central American countries stifle corruption, they write.

Illegally manufactured fentanyl smuggled into the U.S. kills tens of thousands of people each year and worsens addictions for many more. Not only those with opioid use disorder suffer, but also their families and communities, in a decades-long crisis that has blighted the country. The demands that we seal the borders against fentanyl are completely understandable. But also completely unrealistic.

Dedicated law enforcement efforts have produced large seizures, like the recent Blue Lotus Operation that confiscated over 900 pounds of drugs containing fentanyl. But traffickers can easily replace what is seized.

It is time to stop setting up law enforcement for failure by asking the impossible and instead embrace its vital role in cutting illicit drug market-related violence, disorder and corruption.

Read the rest in Scientific American.



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