If you were to ask the typical American what they believe to be the greatest danger to the well-being of our children and citizens, no doubt most would answer the threat from international terrorism.
But the reality is that terrorism, even if you count the World Trade Center attack on 9/11, registers barely a blip on the screen of actual threats to the safety of American citizens.
Tens of thousands of our people are killed each and every year by guns and drunk drivers, numbers that each and every year far surpass the number of Americans killed by terrorist acts.
Then consider that the Centers for Disease Control estimate that two million people in the United States are infected annually by hospital-acquired infections, resulting in 20,000 deaths. The CDC also tells us that cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.
To a large extent, we have met the enemy, and it is us.
But now, tobacco use aside, there is a threat to our collective national health that rapidly has surpassed most other means by which Americans die and which poses an immediate danger to our children. We are talking about deaths from the opioid epidemic that, according to figures researched by the New York Times, increased by 20 percent from 2015 to 2016 and was responsible for the deaths of almost 60,000 Americans last year.
These numbers are staggering when you think about it. That one-year total represents more Americans than were killed in the entirety of the Vietnam War and about 20 times the number of American soldiers killed in the Iraq war — and this is happening year-after-year-after-year.
Traditional heroin is not the culprit. Rather, the synthetic opioids, most prominently fentanyl and carfentanil, which are far more potent than heroin (but which are much cheaper to manufacture), are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of our people when they are laced into, or substitute for, heroin, cocaine, and even marijuana.
These opioids are being manufactured and shipped into the United States primarily from China. Mexico formerly was the principal manufacturing site, but these drugs are so powerful (carfentanil is an elephant tranquilizer that is 5000 times more powerful than heroin) that they can be shipped in very small, undetectable quantities and still make huge profits for drug dealers.
Two 13 year old boys recently died in Utah from an overdose of powerful synthetic opioids that were provided to them by a 15 year old boy who had obtained them over the internet from China.
Just a few grains of these synthetic opioids in powder form can kill a person — that’s how strong they are — and they are being mixed into recreational drugs by drug dealers who clearly do not care about the health of the persons to whom they sell their poison.
Our law enforcement and health officials must devise creative and innovative ways to treat this epidemic because the traditional model of law enforcement clearly is not working.
In addition, it is up to every parent to warn their children of the dangers of illicit drugs. “Recreational drug use” has taken on a new meaning these days — instant death — and this requires parents to be ever-vigilant to ensure that their children do not fall victim to what has become a national scourge that is getting worse.