Illegally manufactured synthetic opioids have accelerated the opioid crisis. These drugs have created new challenges across a wide range of policy areas. That's why this crisis warrants new strategies and a comprehensive response.
Failure to recognize and respond to how rapidly illegal drug markets have changed with the arrival of illegally manufactured synthetic opioids will continue to put many Americans at risk of exposure to fentanyl, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands more for years to come.
For decades, elected officials brushed off harm reduction as a viable option for reducing the harms of drug use over concerns of enabling drug consumption. But now, these strategies are front and center, spoken aloud, from the largest podium in the land, and during prime time. What caused this historic about-face?
The opioid crisis isn't just about drug policy or law. It involves national security, homeland security, intelligence, diplomacy, supply chain issues, and cryptocurrency. Drawing on RAND's expertise across all those areas, the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking delivered a plan, a call to action about what it's going to take to save lives.
Synthetic opioids are likely to increasingly reach illegal drug markets. Failure to recognize and respond to how rapidly drug markets have changed with the arrival of illegally manufactured synthetic opioids will continue to put many at risk of exposure to fentanyl, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands more Americans for years to come.
Australia is at risk of a fentanyl problem, but it is better prepared than North America. If the country can make the same kind of concerted effort it did to keep COVID-19 at bay, that could save thousands of lives.
Few people foresaw how quickly fentanyl would displace heroin, doubling or tripling opioid overdose deaths in some pockets of the United States from 2013 to 2017. But we could have been warned—if only we'd checked our wastewater.
America's fentanyl crisis is unlike previous drug epidemics and is likely to get worse. Deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have surged from around 3,000 in 2013 to more than 30,000 in 2018. Solving the problem requires innovative approaches and unprecedented resources.
Evidence suggests that once a synthetic opioid like fentanyl becomes dominant in a drug market, it stays that way. With that in mind, the United States should prepare for these drugs as a lasting phenomenon.
Although opioid prescriptions in the U.S. have fallen, opioid overdose deaths remain at historic levels. The continued spread of fentanyl and other illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids suggests the problem could still get worse.
America's fentanyl problem is far deadlier than past crises with other illegal drugs. New ideas, be they public policies, technologies or law enforcement strategies, are desperately needed. Continuing to treat fentanyl just like previous drug epidemics will likely be insufficient and may condemn thousands more to early deaths.
Given China's recent decision to ban the unauthorized manufacture of fentanyl, authorities there appear to recognize a growing problem. But China cannot solve the U.S. opioid problem. The United States could do more to reduce demand for opioids as well as drug users' exposure to these powerful drugs.