Opioid crisis – the law and the prescription of ‘medical care’

The administration’s reluctance to prosecute drug dealers and methadone clinics has lead to deadly opioid crisis.

The United States faces an opioid crisis like no other. On Sunday, Kate Andersen Brower, author of The New Yorker article, Lucky: Inside the Incredible Story of Twist, the Most Widespread Opioid in America. The authorities are finally taking up an issue they have long been aware of: drug dealers and methadone clinics are massively contributing to this crisis.

The Department of Justice is taking steps to stem the flow of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues and their derivatives across state and international borders. The Obama administration enacted the bipartisan Pain Management Access & Safety Act, legislation meant to close a loophole in the Controlled Substances Act to prevent supply.

The Trump administration is pushing ahead with these efforts, but in their zeal to rid the country of illegal drugs, they may be giving up too many legal ways to address this opioid crisis.

When courts won’t prosecute drug traffickers

In 2009, Trump Drug Policy Director Tom Marino declined to prosecute Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a foreign drug trafficker. Seizing his cash, Marino turned them over to the DEA, which later seized another $3.4m.

In September 2013, New York law enforcement raided Donelle Brand’s home and found $20m that prosecutors suspected she could have used to import fentanyl. But the judge presiding over the case, Barry Ostrager, refused to prosecute. “In the capacity of prosecutors, we don’t want to interfere with the dispensation of medical care,” Ostrager said. As Lawfare explained, that same call to exempt medical drug use may also be at the heart of the Trump administration’s response to the opioid crisis.

Methadone clinics have been the focus of recent moves to allow States to voluntarily close them. Drug dealers inject people instead of snorting and fentanyl analogues and/or unsecured space have been noted in recent raids for marijuana as well. Additionally, officials are once again debating the merits of prosecuting the users instead of the dealers.

The opioid crisis is complicated and illegal drugs aren’t always dangerous, but despite the government’s plea to close all the loopholes to stop drug trafficking, loopholes in law are also contributing to these issues.

The administration’s own analysis shows that drug importers are using this legal gray area to enter the US and avoid prosecution. An internal report lists, interdicting drug trafficking at the border, as one of the key ways to limit the flow of fentanyl into the US. And the map shows that hundreds of fentanyl analogues are still coming into the US from places that don’t have impoundment laws – China, Hong Kong, Europe and Latin America are the sources. “However, the government’s ability to interdict these drugs would require a level of intelligence and interoperability that few intelligence organizations are currently capable of,” the report says.

How Mexico is actively supplying the US with fentanyl

Officials have called for the Mexican government to hold traffickers responsible for opioids hitting America, but more than ever they need to hold drug traffickers accountable if this country is to save many lives from this crisis.

Between September 2016 and March 2018, there have been at least 20 opioid-related deaths caused by fentanyl manufactured and distributed in Mexico. However, many of these are due to even more dangerous, illicit analogues that the government has no ability to regulate, even if it wanted to. “Authorities in Mexico are under constant pressure to keep them out of the US, and so are some distributors that are simply on the receiving end of those pressures,” USA Today reported.

And with few prosecutions for heroin and opioid trafficking, the trafficking itself goes unabated in some regions of Mexico and as a result, the flow of these drugs and fentanyl into the US has not ceased. Experts say Mexico is doing “little to stop smuggling” from the drug traffickers themselves.

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