From 2020 to 2021, over 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This has led many to call for a renewed focus on the national opioid epidemic, drug addiction and abuse.

Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about overdose deaths?

A. Drug overdose-related fatalities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
B. The opioid crisis is mostly driven by easy accessibility to illegal substances like heroin and fentanyl, rather than pharmaceutical drugs.
C. The federal government has a strong track record when it comes to battling opioid addiction.

Let’s take these statements one at a time:

A. TRUTH! The opioid epidemic has been a decades-long crisis that has wreaked havoc on communities across the country. Sadly, statistics show that the crisis worsened during the pandemic. The U.S. had approximately 78,000 drug overdose-related deaths between April 2019 and April 2020. During the following 12-month period, April 2020 through April 2021, deaths rose to 100,306, up an alarming 28.5% from the previous year. This is also nearly double the number of deaths from five years ago.

B. TRUTH! The vast majority of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. are caused by heroin and illicit synthetic fentanyl, with fentanyl being the most lethal. Alarmingly, a large portion of fentanyl that enters the U.S. is smuggled through the southern border. Fentanyl seizures at the southern border increased dramatically in the last year, more than double the amount confiscated the year before.

Prescription opioids are also commonly misused and abused, but when administered as directed, they can be beneficial in relieving pain in persons who are suffering. Unfortunately, when someone becomes addicted to and misuses a pain reliever, it can lead to major health problems and be destructive to individuals and communities.

C. LIE! As IWF detailed in this policy paper, ill-conceived government policies contributed to the opioid crisis. For example, government-mandated hospital standards and patient satisfaction surveys have played a large role in the epidemic.

Decades of failed border control also plays a serious role in perpetuating drug overdoses. The Council on Foreign Relations reported “Most of the heroin coming into the United States is cultivated on poppy farms in Mexico, with several major cartels controlling production and operating distribution hubs in major U.S. cities. Mexican cartels, which the DEA calls the ‘greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States’ typically smuggle narcotics across the U.S. southwest border.” Unfortunately, the current administration’s approach to the border prioritizes economic development in other countries over the lives of U.S. citizens.  

Policymakers have a role to play in turning the tide of the opioid epidemic, but we certainly cannot rely on the government alone to solve this crisis. Local and state governments, as well as private and nonprofit organizations, are best positioned to deal with opioid abuse in their own communities. Policies should foster state-based interagency programs to combat addiction and encourage public-private partnerships with organizations already fighting drug abuse.

We should also reject further pandemic lockdown measures. There is reason to believe that many overdose deaths could have been averted had it not been for the draconian lockdowns in spring 2020, which had “little to no effect” on the COVID-19 mortality rate, led to social isolation, and may have prevented some from getting the help they needed. 

The opioid epidemic is the result of multiple, complex factors. Future policies must take these factors into account if we hope to ever overcome this terrible, ongoing tragedy.