Biden Fentanyl Crackdown Divides Experts


President Joe Biden called for stronger penalties to crack down on the fentanyl crisis during his State of the Union address last week. 

His measures to combat the overdose crisis have drawn mixed responses from experts. 

During the annual state of the union address, Biden laid out a series of measures to combat the U.S. ‘s overdose crisis including increased drug detection machines, cargo inspections and harsher penalties surrounding fentanyl trafficking.

Biden said there was a “record number of personnel working to secure the border … seizing over 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the last several months”.

Experts are divided on the measures, offering both criticism and praise. 

Some harm reduction advocates worry that the Biden administration’s proposal of “strong penalties to crack down on fentanyl trafficking” may frame the crisis as a largely law enforcement and border patrol issue, as opposed to a nationwide public health problem.

These experts say that the criminalization of drug use trafficking is the opposite of reducing harm. What they are looking for is harm reduction, the experts say, not more drug criminalization. 

Experts say that if criminalizing drugs worked as a method to reduce overdoses or trafficking, it would have already worked. But drug criminalization has not reduced trafficking or overdosing, nor has it incentivized behavior change among drug users. 

Other harm reduction advocates argue that Biden’s call for greater penalties will further hit marginalized communities that have already been disproportionately affected by the failed “war on drugs”. They also believe it will allow for even more potent drugs to enter illegal markets.

Experts also warn that fentanyl-related substances have overtaken our drug supply at this point because of the drug trade responding to harsh crackdowns and increased seizures of heroin and prescription opioids.

Meanwhile, other experts have praised the Biden administration’s approach to the overdose crisis, which includes disrupting the drug’s trafficking and sale while also expanding access to treatment, recovery and harm reduction tools such as sterilized needles and smoking equipment.

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