Cato Institute: Fentanyl Deregulation Will End Crisis and Save Lives

By Jonathan Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC – Senior Fellow and medical doctor Jeffrey Singer from the Cato Institute wrote a letter last week to Congress urging lawmakers to end the fentanyl crisis by making it safer to use the drug.

“Short of ending prohibition, federal and state lawmakers can help reduce overdose deaths by repealing drug paraphernalia laws that make it illegal to distribute fentanyl test strips, which mitigate the dangers of fentanyl consumption,” Singer wrote.

Singer said any other policy actions “will fuel the development of more deadly replacements,” as heroin restrictions allowed for fentanyl to gain traction and in 2016 “replace heroin as the primary cause of overdose deaths in the United States.”

Singer suggested that if fentanyl were legal and regulated, just like alcohol, it would reduce deaths caused by the black market’s monopoly on fentanyl.

“Today, when I go to my legal drug dealer to purchase whiskey, it never enters my mind that it might be adulterated with fentanyl or have a greater concentration of alcohol than it says on the bottle label. That is because it is legal and regulated,” wrote Singer.

Singer argued the fentanyl crisis is purely economic and not an “epidemic or an invasion,” meaning that legislation restricting legal access to fentanyl or incriminating black market dealers will not deter the high demand for the synthetic opioid.

“Fentanyl is not a viral pathogen that jumps from host to host or a hunter seeking defenseless prey. The influx of fentanyl is a response to market demand,” added Singer.

Prohibition on fentanyl means the only place to get it is from black market dealers, which is driving the record-breaking rise in fentanyl overdose deaths, argued Singer, explaining, “Prohibition makes the black market dangerous because people who buy drugs on the black market can never be sure of the drug’s purity, dosage, or even if it is the drug they think they are buying.”

Banning the drug outright is only good for black market dealers, reasoned Singer, as “enforcing prohibition incentivizes those who market prohibited substances to develop more potent forms that are easier to smuggle in smaller sizes and can be subdivided into more units to sell.”

Additionally, Singer added, drug dealers are not going to stop selling fentanyl because a law says it’s illegal, as “threatening drug dealers with life imprisonment or the death penalty is also unlikely to deter the drug trade. Most drug dealers already factor the risk of death into their decision to get into the business.”

Singer also discouraged Congress from “adding fentanyl analogs to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I,” because it would end medical developments for fentanyl analogs.

Making it harder to get the drug will only worsen the crisis, which is what happened during the alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century, maintains Singer.

“Policymakers learned how alcohol prohibition failed and came to their senses when they repealed it in 1933. If policymakers double down on the same prohibitionist policies they have employed for over 50 years, deaths from illicit drug overdoses will continue to rise,” wrote Singer.

About The Author

Jonathan is a second year student at UC Davis majoring in Managerial Economics and minoring in Political Science and History.

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