Reducing Illegal Drugs in the United States Requires the Tools of the Trade, Not ‘War’


We hear a lot about fentanyl crossing the southern border with Mexico, mostly from Republicans who claim it’s the result of “open borders.”

Often, these remarks mention undocumented migrants and asylum seekers also crossing the border, implying that drug trafficking organizations are recruiting them to smuggle this dangerous drug into the United States. While it is true that the majority of fentanyl destined for the United States comes from Mexico, the organizations trafficking it do not risk their product on desperate people facing great hardship and a dangerous crossing.

Instead, fentanyl enters the United States through seemingly legal crossings at designated ports of entry. He arrives by car, truck, train, in transport missions methodically arranged to arouse as little suspicion as possible. On occasion, US border authorities seize packages of fentanyl, and many seizures provide circumstantial evidence of a large supply that renders passage undetected.

Republican Governor Kim Reynolds hinted in her response to the president’s State of the Union address that such seizures imply a failure to “secure” the border. But what “lots of drugs” actually indicates is a failure of drug policy itself.

Given the sophistication of smugglers and the volume of trade, tight security at ports of entry will never detect most drug shipments. They will never even come close. Pinning our supply reduction hopes on a strategy of border interdiction reminds me of an analogous proposition, common among drug policy reformers, that safe consumption sites, if widely adopted , will reverse overdose deaths. Both are late interventions — one targeting supply, the other targeting demand — that will never be as effective as earlier interruptions.

If you’re talking about the border, then you’re too late in the process to have any impact on a significant reduction in the supply of illegal drugs.

Unfortunately, current proposals to contract supply are stagnating in exactly this way, captive to drug interdiction and a law enforcement mentality. This is all the more remarkable because the American people, from a variety of political perspectives and using a variety of parameters, view the war on drugs as a dismal failure.

But that is starting to change. In December, an article in the editorial section of the New York Times endorsed my recommendation to policymakers to use the tools of international trade to reduce the flow of dangerous illegal drugs into the United States. In early February, Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerCongress must strengthen protections against insider trading by its members and their families. (D-Va.) and Rep. David ThroneDavid John TroneOvernight Health Care – GOP Shows Support For Canadian Protesters Overdose Epidemic Costs U.S. T Per Year: Research Democratic Representative Tests Positive For COVID-19 After Returning From Ukraine Trip MORE (D-Md.) introduced an amendment to the COMPETES Act holding the Secretary of State to account for his efforts to obtain concessions from countries known to export large quantities of fentanyl or its analogues, the drugs most responsible for the rise without history of overdose deaths. Interestingly, Spanberger and Trone included the Secretary of the Treasury among those whom the Secretary of State must consult before submitting his report to Congress. (COMPETES Law passed the Chamber last month with the Spanberger/Trone language.)

This is not an unusual suggestion. Until the 1960s, the United States directed its counternarcotics policy from the Treasury Department. The transfer of the Bureau of Narcotics (the agency that preceded the Drug Enforcement Administration) from the Treasury to the Department of Justice marked the policy shift from commerce to enforcement – ​​and from regulation to a “war on drugs” .

Given the growing unpopularity of the War on Drugs, it’s no surprise that we’re hearing more about the use of trade sanctions, not coercive measures, to motivate source countries to implement change. significant. That being said, it’s important to note that trade sanctions should be tied to a reduction in the quantity or potency of fentanyl (best measured by a higher street price) rather than intermediate measures – and most likely against -productive – like banning a particular product. drug formulation. The focus on the end result of drug prices puts the strength of US bargaining power behind the outcomes that matter most to ordinary Americans.

On the example of environmentalists working to incorporate emissions reductions into trade talks, US trade negotiators should invest the “winners” of global trade in any given source country to make them care more about the cost of their success – in effect, they delegate a group of influential ambassadors to pursue supply reduction in their own country, using the power they already have, and drawing strength and legitimacy from the freedom to follow their own judgement.

Among other benefits, adopting a results-based approach to trade discussions involves a long-overdue recognition that illegal drugs primarily enter this country through legal ports, facilitated by trade agreements designed to reduce barriers to the entrance. It is no coincidence that two major trading partners of the United States, China and Mexico, are also major producers of fentanyl. Since World War II, illegal drugs have come to the United States in greater quantities as more people and products have arrived. In fact, it has always made sense to include illicit drugs in trade discussions. Now it’s just urgent. As a U.S. Trade Representative Katherine TaiKatherine TaiBiden argues gender equality benefits everyone to mark Women’s History Month Biden should call for an end to normal business relations with Russia recently recognised, it is time to take a more holistic view of who can be considered a stakeholder in trade negotiations and what counts as a cost.

Accordingly, legislation should be introduced to implement the 2001 Council Recommendation National Academy of Sciences report, “Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs”, to acquire and maintain a comprehensive database of the sale prices of illegal drugs. As the committee that issued the recommendation points out, without this baseline, no evidence-based assessment can be made regarding the effectiveness of a supply-side anti-narcotics policy. Following this, legislation should be introduced to hold the Secretary of the Treasury accountable to Congress for his agency’s efforts to raise the selling price of the most dangerous illegal drugs.

There is no time for performative politics on the opioid crisis. Last year alone, more than 100,000 people in the country died from drug overdoses. As a nation, we must tackle the problem at the source: for demand, this means revitalizing communities and providing primary care screening for substance use disorders and access to medical treatment. To fight the supply, the US government must abandon a militant war on drugs and use the tools of the trade.

Drug smuggling organizations have far more to fear from a calculator in the hands of a trade negotiator than from a meaningless photo op at the border.

Kathleen J. Frydl is an award-winning political historian specializing in conservative state building and author of “The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973” (2013), “The GI Bill” (2009) and “Liberalism and the Modern Reinventing the Moral Person” (forthcoming, 2023) Twitter: @Kfrydl


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