Fentanyl crisis started and rose significantly under the Obama-Biden administration, however, it is still a growing problem in the U.S in 2020.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) attacked Joe Biden's foreign policy record in his speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention. Among other things, he also accused Joe Biden of allowing Chinese fentanyl to flood across our southern border.
In the span of a few short years, fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin, ravaged America. Developed in 1960 by a Belgian physician, fentanyl is typically reserved for surgery and cancer patients. It is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl has played a key role in reducing the overall life expectancy for Americans. Fentanyl hit the streets in America in 2013, and between 2013 and 2017, more than 67,000 people died of synthetic-opioid-related overdoses. In 2017, synthetic opioids were to blame for 28,869 out of the overall 47,600 opioid overdoses, a 46.4 percent increase from 2016, when fentanyl became the leading cause of overdose deaths America for the first time.
According to a report published in the Washington Post in 2019, many factors led to this crisis. For years, Congress didn't provide significant funding to combat fentanyl or the broader opioid epidemic. U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn't have enough officers, adequately trained dogs, or sophisticated equipment to curb illegal fentanyl shipments entering from China and Mexico. The U.S. Postal Service didn't require electronic monitoring of international packages, making it difficult to detect parcels containing fentanyl ordered over the Internet from China. CDC data documenting fentanyl overdoses lagged behind events on the ground by as much as a year, obscuring the real-time picture of what was happening.
After reviewing the Obama administration's handling of the fentanyl crisis from 2014 to 2017, we can conclude that the administration did not take the necessary steps to address the growing issue adequately. In January 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a bulletin warning local authorities nationwide about heroin cut with fentanyl. The bulletin resulted in a few local news stories. In March 2014, a month after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's heroin overdose generated national headlines, a video was released to notify the public of the rising number of heroin deaths. However, the video made no mention of fentanyl; top officials in Washington focused on heroin and prescription pain pills. The DAE showed a presentation to then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. about the dangers of fentanyl in June 2014; however, no action was taken.
On March 18, 2015, nine months after its presentation to Holder, the DEA issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl, warning law enforcement agencies, and the public about the mounting threat. DEA agents said traffickers and users were ordering fentanyl over the Internet and the dark Web, paying for the drug with bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency. The agency noted that Mexican cartels were smuggling fentanyl through entry ports along the southwest border, hiding it in wheel wells and secret compartments in cars and trucks.
Subsequently, Congress directed the Justice Department and the White House drug czar to convene a National Heroin Task Force to develop strategies to confront the heroin problem. They brought together 25 agencies to develop a "comprehensive" national response to the crisis. However, the focus was still on heroin and prescription pills. The task force's 23-page report was delivered to Congress by the new attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch. Five sentences were devoted to fentanyl.
During the Obama administration, Tom Frieden, the CDC chief, notified several senior administration health officials about the increasing fentanyl overdoses. In October 2015, the CDC issued a nationwide health advisory about the rising dangers of fentanyl. In November, eight months after the DEA issued its national fentanyl alert, the Obama administration sent its annual National Drug Control Strategy to Congress. The 107-page report devoted only one sentence to fentanyl, noting that it was showing up in heroin.
In May 2016, a group of national health experts issued an urgent plea in a private letter to high-level officials in the Obama administration. In the letter, the experts pressed the officials to declare fentanyl a national 'public health emergency.' The Post further states that the administration considered the request but did not act on it, a policy failure on their part. After the 2016 election, at the insistence of Obama, Congress approved nearly $1 billion for opioid treatment programs. However, drug policy experts called that figure very low. On January 11, 2017, Obama delivered his annual National Drug Control Strategy to Congress. Four years after the epidemic began in Rhode Island, the White House called fentanyl a national crisis.
Despite the lack of coherent policies to tackle the growing problem during the Obama crisis, CDC's data shows that confiscations, or seizures, of fentanyl, increased by nearly 7 fold from 2012 to 2014. There were 4,585 fentanyl confiscations in 2014. From July to December 2014, 18 states reported 20 or more fentanyl drug confiscations.
In 2018, Congress finally passed legislation to address the increasingly politicized opioid crisis, including a measure to force the Postal Service to start tracking international packages. In August 2019, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on three Chinese nationals accused of trafficking synthetic opioids, stepping up efforts to curb the flow of fentanyl from China into the United States. The move came after China announced that it would ban all variants of fentanyl. However, it fell short of banning all previous chemicals used to make it, leaving open the ability for traffickers to ship those components to other countries where the drug can be produced. While more measures to tackle the problem have been taken under the Trump administration, the number of deaths resulting from fentanyl has not gone down. Rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, including fentanyl, increased 10% from 2017 to 2018. Over 31,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, in 2018. Overall overdose death rates decreased by 4.1% in 2018, but death rates from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, increased by 10% in 2018. In 2019, 37 states and the District of Columbia reported an increase in or a stable number of drug-related overdose deaths compared with 2018. More than half of the nation's overdose deaths in 2019 involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, with deaths related to synthetic opioid overdoses accounting for 36,500 of the 70,980 deaths in 2019. According to the White House's preliminary data, drug overuse deaths have risen significantly in 2020, primarily due to Covid-19. Overdose deaths were up by 11.4% from January to April of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Therefore, while the fentanyl crisis grew significantly under the Obama-Biden administration, the issue is still significantly affecting Americans in 2020. Therefore, we conclude that this claim is Partly True.