Los Angeles Editorial Board Argues Harsher Penalties for Fentanyl Abuse Will Not Stop Crisis, Referencing CA Legislation

By Brinda Kalita

LOS ANGELES, CA- In an opinion article published in the Los Angeles Times this past week, the LA Times’s editorial board argued the U.S. criminal justice policy is responsible for the country’s current fentanyl crisis.

More specifically, the editorial board wrote, “The war on drugs made fentanyl — much as it turned morphine into heroin and cocaine into crack.”

The editorial board writers first discussed how fentanyl became a stronger drug due to current policies about the drug, noting the fentanyl crisis matches what marijuana legalization activist Richard Cowan calls the iron law of prohibition, in which the harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.

Then, the editorial board discussed how our current enforcement of fentanyl leads to even more dangerous and potent drugs, writing,  “Illicit drug makers trying to evade authorities seek ways to pack more punch into smaller packages in order to make their wares progressively cheaper to transport, easier to hide and quicker to hook the ultimate user. 

“But this doesn’t just make the drugs harder though, but more hazardous, because the buyers at the end of the black market chain may not even know fentanyl has been mixed in with the drugs they purchased. Fentanyl now taints counterfeit pain and anxiety pills sold in Mexican pharmacies and on the dark web and peddled among high school students.”

The editorial board also noted how people are also dying because of the introduction of tranq, a drug that mirrors what opioids can do but leads to even more deaths.

“There’s tranq — the street name for xylazine, a horse tranquilizer. The veterinary medicine’s effects somewhat mimic what users expect from opioids, so it’s appearing in fentanyl. People who think they’re buying fake Percocet may ingest xylazine and die from it without ever knowing they were putting horse tranquilizer in their bodies. Survivors often suffer rotting flesh wounds that cannot be treated with usual remedies,” wrote the Times.

But, the editorial board emphasizes how just adding more regulations is not the answer, suggesting more regulation only leads to the same results as with the war on drugs, citing a study titled “Criminal Justice or Public Health: A Comparison of the Representation of the Crack Cocaine and Opioid Epidemics in the Media” by Carmel Shacar, Tess Wise, Gali Katznelson and Andrea Louise Campbell to underscore these points.

The editorial board also poses hypotheticals about worlds in which response networks are built to deal with different public health crises, such as the crack epidemic and prescription opioid crisis. However, the board stresses how throughout history, the U.S. has never even entertained the idea of any of these hypotheticals. 

Rather, the board adds, the U.S. continues to “escalate already bloated public spending on police, prosecution and prison. That’s what we know best, and the first tool we think of for responding to drug-related waves of illness and death that epidemiologists say move through the population and should be managed much like influenza, HIV or the coronavirus.”

The editorial board then draws attention to how the California Government is grappling with the fentanyl crisis, noting, “A California State Assembly committee is due to take up a number of bills intended to respond to the overdose and poisoning crisis. Most proposals follow the route of fear and failure: harsher penalties, longer sentences. We know what’s at the end of that road. 

“It’s fantasy to think that we can interdict or punish our way out of this crisis, or that a criminal sanction will better dissuade someone from ingesting an illegal drug than the prospect of instant death or rotting flesh. It is magical thinking to believe that we will stop demand, or that manufacturers will quit and find a more wholesome line of work,” the board writes.

However, the editorial board charges for the problem to be solved, the U.S. needs to stop criminalizing drugs and start helping people who are suffering from them.

It writes, “But if our goal is to stop the dying, we know what to do, even though we’ve so rarely done it before. Make readily available testing of illegal substances without fear of prosecution. Provide broad access to overdose antidotes such as Narcan for fentanyl, and expand research to find a similar antidote for tranq. 

“Promote harm reduction techniques such as safer supplies of illicit drugs, safe consumption sites, clinics for recovery, funding and legal infrastructure to match.”

About The Author

Brinda is a student at UC Riverside, pursuing a degree in History with a Law and Society emphasis. She plans to attend law school after receiving her bachelors.

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