Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has called for the erection of a wall along the Southwest border. A recent report underscores the need for such additional barriers along that border.
That report, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), was broken down in an article that appeared in Real Clear Life captioned "$115 Billion Lost and More Than 48,000 Dead: Staggering Numbers About the Opioid Crisis in 2017". As the title suggests, the opioid crisis that is currently affecting tens of thousands in the United States has brought with it a significant death toll that has also carried a shocking cost to the American economy.
As that article states:
According to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control based on the most recent data available as of early October, more than 71,500 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, a 10 percent jump from 2016.
If that number is accurate, the death toll figure is higher than the peak yearly death totals from HIV, car crashes or gun deaths and more than the total number of U.S. military deaths in all 15 years of the Vietnam war.
Of the approximately 71,500 overdoses, about 48,600 are estimated to have been caused by natural or synthetic opioids like morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, or heroin, or some combination therein.
According to an analysis by healthcare research nonprofit Altarum, opioid addiction cost $115 billion in 2017 and direct costs (lost wages, emergency room treatment, drug addiction counseling) from the epidemic have topped $1 trillion since 2001.
Putting those figures into context, the article explains:
The year before, according to 2016's drug overdose numbers, overall overdose deaths per a population of 100,000 was 19.7. Drug overdose deaths specifically involving any opioids per a population of 100,000 was 13.1 over that same span. Translation: if someone had a deadly overdose in 2016, there was nearly a 70 percent chance that opioids were the cause.
Using that 13.1 figure as a benchmark, opioids killed more people per population of 100,000 than guns did in Florida (12.6), Illinois (11.7), and Texas (12.1) in 2016 using that same population metric.
The report does not break down the deaths that resulted from heroin and fentanyl, but an article in Vox from August 2018 does provide some insight. Using preliminary estimates, the website determined that 29,395 deaths were attributable to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids (other than methadone), while an additional 15,950 were the result of heroin overdoses.
In a January 2018 article, NPR described Mexico as "America's Biggest Heroin Supplier". It states:
Mexico's southwestern Guerrero state is now the top source of heroin for the American drug epidemic. ... The Drug Enforcement Administration says 93 percent of heroin analyzed by the agency in 2015 came from Mexico, more than double the amount from five years before.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics reveal that Border Patrol agents seized 953 pounds of heroin in FY 2017, and 532 pounds of the drug up to August 2018 in FY 2018.
A June 2018 San Diego Union-Tribune article, on the other hand, explains the complicated process by which fentanyl makes its way to the United States. As the paper reports:
It all starts in China, where a booming legitimate chemical industry hides illegal producers, and precursor chemicals and other items such as pill presses have been scarcely regulated, according to a March report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Some of that fentanyl makes its way directly from China to the United States through the U.S. mail:
Part of the problem is China's complex and misleading freight forwarding system, which moves parcels from shipper to shipper, making it virtually impossible to trace it to its original source. Fentanyl shippers will often mislabel the package as an extra layer of caution and forward the package through another country, such as Tonga, to avoid U.S. suspicion, federal authorities said.
A recent Senate investigation found another hurdle is the U.S. Postal Service's failure to fully deploy a program to require more detailed sender and recipient information on packages — a tool that helps law enforcement target suspicious shipments.
Much of it makes its way, however, from China to Mexico to the United States over the border. The article explains:
On one subject there is little dispute — that the smuggling of fentanyl through Mexico to the U.S. border is largely conducted by the long-established Sinaloa cartel, and the rising powerhouse Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG, both large trafficking organizations with international reach.
The fentanyl that passes through Mexico to the U.S. border travels through many of the same routes used to smuggle heroin, meth, cocaine and marijuana — with seizures reported in recent months all along the western corridor that runs through Jalisco, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California. The drug has been found hidden inside shoes, in a passenger bus, and in numerous cargo parcels at the Tijuana airport.
The San Diego Union-Tribune lays out how that drug is smuggled through ports of entry in western California. Specifically, it states that in FY 2017, CBP "seized 355 kilograms of fentanyl at San Diego ports of entry, accounting for 82 percent of all border crossing seizures nationwide."
As port seizures increase, there will logically be more impetus to move that drug illegally over the border between the ports. The sophisticated detection systems in place at the ports aid CBP in identifying smugglers there. The wide-open spaces along the Southwest border do not pose such impediments. The truth of this fact can be found in CBP statistics.
Specifically, Border Patrol seized 181 pounds of fentanyl in FY 2017, but through August 2018, had seized 332 pounds of the drug in FY 2018, a more than 183 percent increase. Again, these figures are lower than the seizures by CBP officers at the ports of entry: In FY 2017, CBP officers seized 1,196 pounds of the drug, and through July 2018, have seized 1,357 pounds in FY 2018. Those numbers, however, reflect a 113 percent increase, although admittedly in one fewer month.
Barriers along the border (including, where needed, a wall) to the illegal entry of persons and drugs would push smugglers toward the ports of entry, where the likelihood of detection, as noted, is much higher. Some 45,000 unnecessary deaths and tens of billions of dollars in costs from opioid addiction make the costs of erecting those barriers seem like a bargain.