There are many dimensions to the opioid crisis facing the United States. A public health emergency, border security crisis, and urgent public safety concerns all rolled into one, ending it once and for all will require an all-hands-on deck response from federal, state, and local law enforcement and policymakers. With over 110,000 drug overdose deaths reported in 2022 and 70 percent of these due to opiates, this response could not come soon enough.

Public awareness of addiction dangers and a strong effort to curb the over-prescribed use of legal opiates would have hopefully resulted in a reduction of drug overdose deaths. But despite these efforts, which resulted in a 44 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions from 2011 to 2020, the number of overdose deaths has steadily continued to rise.  

The only plausible explanation for this disparity is the rise of illicit synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and its analogs. A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics found that drug overdose death rates involving fentanyl nearly quadrupled in the US from 2016 to 2021 while overdose deaths for oxycodone (a commonly prescribed painkiller) decreased during the study period.  

Interdictions of fentanyl by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), a helpful proxy to gauge drug trafficking activity, have seen a near tenfold increase in the past five years demonstrating the staggering scale of this problem. Addressing the public safety risks stemming from the free-flowing traffic of migrants, drug smugglers, and illicit fentanyl that the Biden Administration has allowed into the country should be priority number one. 

Now more than ever we need to provide law enforcement with resources to battle the influx of illegal fentanyl in our communities and to support quality, affordable treatment programs for those suffering from addiction. Fortunately, a $26 billion settlement with distributors and manufacturers of opioids, finalized in February of last year, will provide much-needed financial assistance to many states and communities across the country. 

As a former police commissioner, I cannot overstate how impactful such resources will be in this fight. Pennsylvania, for example, is on track to receive over $1 billion from this settlement alone and is in the process of creating an “opioid trust” that will allocate funding to several policy priorities.  

The city of Philadelphia plans to invest its funds in substance abuse education, treatment, prevention, and targeted engagement for those communities affected by the crisis. Neighboring Delaware County, meanwhile, will expand the use of Naloxone and medication assisted treatments, while increasing its support of drug courts and first responders. 

Other counties in Pennsylvania intend to spend money on law enforcement initiatives such as drug task forces and dedicated detectives for opioid investigations, as well as for staff increases in coroners’ offices to respond more quickly to overdose deaths. This is all being done with a goal of levying more criminal charges against those dealing these deadly drugs. 

While it is encouraging to see such initiatives play out in Pennsylvania, the issues at hand are bigger than just our state. Solving the opioid crisis once and for all will require regional and national cooperation across a score of private and governmental organizations. It is unfortunate that some states and localities have chosen to opt out of this opioid settlement in favor of drawn-out legal action.  

Just two hours away from Philadelphia, another major city in the region, Baltimore, has opted to go this route. Washington state, under the guidance of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, has likewise adopted a similar tactic. Such a strategy is flawed because it not only denies citizens the resources needed to make an immediate impact in this crisis, but it could also jeopardize their arrival altogether as evidenced by the experience of Oklahoma.

Instead of settling, Oklahoma took its case all the way to the state Supreme Court and lost in a 5-1 decision, ultimately missing out on the opportunity to secure much-needed resources. It is unclear then, why Democratic officials in Washington state and Baltimore intend to use the same failed legal playbook. It appears that the lure of gaining political notoriety from attempting to successfully “beat” pharmaceutical companies in court has overshadowed the best interests of their constituents. 

Rather than engaging in prolonged legal battles that leave those suffering from addiction unable to obtain treatment services and law enforcement agencies without a financial boost to expand their efforts in fighting the opioid crisis, states and municipalities should view these settlements as a model to gain quicker access to critical resources for new and innovative law enforcement programs. Ending the current opioid crisis for good will require an effort from many different segments of government and society, but law enforcement will be a key part of that equation. It’s time to make sure every agency is equipped with the needed resources to get down to work.

Becky Corbin is a former Commissioner of the Brandywine Regional Police. She was also 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 field of chemistry.

7 thoughts on “Becky Corbin: Police, not politics, needed to end the opioid crisis”

  1. Becky, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. How were these drug executives different than street dealers? They all knew they sold highly addictive drugs to people that are troubled – executives simply have more money and better attorneys, and that’s about it. The Shapiro Administration just used what are currently illegal marijuana sales to account for part of the 2024 PA state budget – they do not see drug use as a problem rather a tax source. Despite knowledge marijuana use changes your D.N.A. And after “defund the police” and the BLM movements of late it is extremely unlikely law enforcement will solve any drug use problem. We took God out of schools, wrote “In God we Trust” on our currency, and glorify money and short-term happiness. We need to get to the real root of the problem. Why do people use drugs? Focus on that. As long as people are looking for a short-term fix, there will be monsters to sell it to them.

  2. The only way, in my opinion, to make any significant progress in the opioid epidemic is to increase the number of addicts becoming sober and staying that way. There is the rub. When you look at the number of addicts going into treatment, the number successfully completing treatment and the number who have remained sober, you will see that over 95% do not remain sober. And this doesn’t represent those who do not seek treatment. I am of the opinion however that the so called “harm reduction” programs are a sham in that they provide a more pleasant way to be high but do nothing to nudge an addict to treatment. I am of this opinion about Narcan, it is a laudable goal to save lives, but it seems to me that in far too many cases, it becomes a “Free get out of jail card.” The use of Narcan was supposed to give an addict a second chance to get clean and theoretically, OD numbers would go down. Doesn’t seem to have worked that way. At the risk of being called a “Nazi” and other things, I believe we are now as a society at that point of requiring mandatory treatment and rehabilitation.

    1. George, You are correct. Narcan is just another example of a long list of things sold to society one way; yet, these things actually produce very different results with “unintended” consequences. It is a never-ending cycle of lies and the few that reasonably object as these things are initially sold to society get drowned out by Communist big-media and propaganda. In 1964 over 200 doctors wrote the “Ulm Declaration”, and other religious leaders warned us about a general lowering of moral standards” resulting from sex without consequences. Big Pharma and Communists told everyone “The pill” would liberate women. Suddenly people were changing partners in a way that had previously been unimaginable. “Anybody who sleeps with the same partner twice has sold themselves to the establishment.” What actually happened was an explosion of divorce, STDs, and a general lowering of moral standards. Birth rates have plummeted. Now girls and boys are taught there is no difference between men and women. That is one reason why most women won’t defend “women” sports, because then they would have to confront and admit an actual difference. Never mind Mother Earth is to be revered. Our children have pocket computers designed to be addictive called “phones” and so we ignore what is going on with that. War on Poverty produced more poverty. War on Drugs produced more drug use. We have been purposely subjected to brainwashing and undereducation. Everyone has been conditioned to be polite and not reflect on these things aloud. I’m 47 but when I was a child, I do not recall having so many songs on the radio about killing people… besides Jonny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Now we have entire channels dedicated to the concept. It is very odd. The US government is consistently caught lying and changing definitions such as “inflation.” It is because we are a Godless culture. A separation of Church and State is not a separation from “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator (God) with certain unalienable (impossible to take away or give up) Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

  3. I am 82 years old and a Viet Nam veteran. When I came home, I thought society couldn’t get much worse. I was so wrong, and I am not just appalled but also saddened by how much we have degraded ourselves. We don’t have freedom, we have license, we don’t have happiness, just endless distractions, no peace in our souls, just drugs. I feel so sorry for my children and grandchildren.

  4. George, There is a prayer to the God: Thank you for starting my cycle of life and giving me this life. I meditate and ask to be continually interested in questioning life’s complexities and moral virtues so that my hope cannot be cut off. I meditate to focus and look for ways to help someone else in need. Amen. May God be with you and yours.

  5. I am of the generation between both of your respective ones and I have to admit you both have made good points. As an educator (now retired) in the nation’s fifth largest school district, I had a ring side seat at the degeneration of moral as well as educational standards. What is going on in the streets and elsewhere in our sociery is reflective of an abosolute breakdown of boundaries and a profoundly diminished capacity to act from reason. Our modern politicians are moral and intellectual pygmies. They are a collection of midgets in big boots attempting to walk in the footsteps of the giants of a long past age. They can’t help us. Only we, collectively, must act and be the agents of change.

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