As one of the states most affected by the opioid crisis, the public health and law enforcement implications of the epidemic have become a hot-button issue on the campaign trail here in Pennsylvania. A recent CBS News and YouGov poll found that 67% of Pennsylvanians consider drug or opioid addiction to be a major problem in the Commonwealth. As a result, the opioid crisis has become a focal point of several high-profile races.

Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Oz, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, visited Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood — the epicenter of the city’s drug crisis — to talk about drug and crime issues in the Keystone State and to contrast his proposals to help those suffering from addiction with that of his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman. In the Governor’s race, meanwhile, Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro and Republican hopeful Doug Mastriano have sparred over their records as Attorney General and state senator, respectively, in bringing the crisis to bay.

Given the gravity of the situation, candidates up and down the ballot have made the opioid crisis a top campaign issue. But to truly end the crisis, voters must look to support candidates who will promote law enforcement and border security measures as well as the public health efforts necessary to end the opioid crisis.

READ MORE — Earl Baker: ​​Cooperation will be key to ending the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth

For the first time ever, in 2021, the United States surpassed 100,000 drug overdose deaths — including more than 5,400 Pennsylvanians. The carnage was driven primarily by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times more potent than heroin, that has flooded across America’s southern border and onto its streets.

Mexican drug cartels have produced staggering quantities of illicit fentanyl using People’s Republic of China sourced primary materials. During a fifteen-week period this past summer, the Drug Enforcement Agency and local law enforcement departments seized over 36 million lethal doses of fentanyl from pills and powder, including 500,000 doses from New York City alone. The drug is now so prevalent that fentanyl is being used to lace other street drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine, mixed with or sold as heroin, and routinely found in counterfeit pills that are made to look like authentic prescription drugs but contain fentanyl or an analogue.

A series of unfortunate and misguided policies have helped create the situation we are in and, if left unchecked, may even worsen the situation. Getting the southern border under control should be the top priority, but the Biden Administration is inexplicably continuing in its effort to rescind Title 42, a Covid-era rule which has helped to stem the flow of migrants that have been overwhelming federal law enforcement officials. A government watchdog has warned that repealing the order would mean our overworked and understaffed border agents will be unprepared “to meet the increase in processing and placement burdens,” in effect, robbing resources that could otherwise be used for critical drug interdiction efforts. Not only should policies like this remain in place, but additional investments must also be made to ensure border agents have the resources they need.

A series of unfortunate and misguided policies have helped create the situation we are in and, if left unchecked, may even worsen the situation.

Meanwhile, politically-motivated District Attorneys who are soft on crime and legislative efforts to enact broad drug decriminalization have emboldened the dealers peddling poison on American streets. Leaders promoting these policies need to be held accountable. On the public health front, a $1 billion injection of cash from a recent settlement with manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids should provide a crucial lifeline for public health initiatives, including treatment programs, education, and prevention efforts. Candidates who prevail in November should ensure this money is actually spent helping break the cycle of addiction rather than earmarking it for other political pet projects, which has happened too often in the past.

Several emerging trends underscore what is at stake in this election. Fentanyl overdose deaths have tripled among American teens over the past two years, and the emergence of “rainbow fentanyl” illustrates the lengths to which drug cartels will go to market this drug to our youth. Meanwhile, an even deadlier class of synthetic opioids known as nitazenes, which can be ten times more potent than even fentanyl, looms on the horizon. 

The opioid epidemic has left indelible scars on too many American families. The leaders we send to Harrisburg and Washington in November must be willing to take meaningful and serious action to end the flow of these illicit drugs once and for all.

Becky Corbin was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2013–2018 and served on the Health Committee. Her professional background and training is in the chemistry field.

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