Fighting the fentanyl epidemic requires both international and local action

While our attention has been drawn lately to the Titan submersible and Canadian wildfires, a hidden disaster continues to plague Illinois and our nation. In 2021, more than 107,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings. Two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

In Illinois alone, 3,717 opioid overdose deaths occurred in 2021 - the last year for which data is available. That's an average of ten Illinoisans dying from overdoses each day! More than 80 percent of those opioid deaths involved fentanyl.

In 2020, more than twice as many Illinoisans died from opioid overdoses as from motor vehicle accidents. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, emergency medical services responded to 19,451 opioid overdoses that year.

Most of the fentanyl found in the U.S. is mass-produced in Mexico using chemicals from China. The fentanyl is pressed into pills or mixed with other pills to create counterfeit versions of Xanax, Adderall, or oxycodone. The huge danger of fentanyl is its tremendous potency; only two milligrams is considered a potentially lethal dose. For context, a typical Tylenol tablet is 325 milligrams.

This ongoing fentanyl crisis is affecting millions of Americans and their families while burdening local law enforcement and public health departments. There are two things that the federal government must do to gain control over this daunting problem.

First, we must go after the production of fentanyl at its source - both in China, which provides the chemicals, and in Mexico, where it is manufactured and then exported into the U.S. As ranking member of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, I am pushing the Biden administration to increase U.S. sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals involved in producing and exporting those precursor chemicals to Mexico.

I strongly supported the Biden administration's decision earlier this year to sanction members of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel who are largely responsible for manufacturing fentanyl pills and trafficking them into the U.S. We must continue to put maximum diplomatic pressure on both China and Mexico to end the activities in their countries involving the production and distribution of this illicit and murderous product.

While cracking down on the supply of fentanyl, we must also focus on reducing the demand by helping our local communities and law enforcement agencies treat those caught up in opioid addiction.

As a member of the Bipartisan Congressional Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorder Task Force, I am fighting for full funding of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) grant program. Created under the Trump Administration, LEAD allows law enforcement agencies to redirect drug offenders to community-based programs designed to treat their addiction instead of relying on criminal prosecution and jail time. The evidence shows that this kind of approach provides better real-life outcomes.

In addition, I have fought in Congress to fund a number of promising local programs designed to help our communities and law enforcement agencies fight the fentanyl epidemic. Examples include a $340,000 federal grant to support the Schaumburg Police Department's mobile response unit for mental health and substance abuse. Through collaboration between the police and local community groups, this program enables trained social workers and emergency response professionals to respond to 911 calls involving drug and mental health crises.

I also helped secure nearly $500,000 in federal grants for the Elk Grove Village Cares Program, which funds substance abuse treatment and recovery programs while strengthening ties between the Elk Grove Police Department and the wider community. And I helped the Leyden Family Service and Mental Health Center receive a $266,059 grant to provide mental health services including addiction counseling.

Ending the fentanyl crisis requires both a national and local response. We must continue to put pressure on China and Mexico to stop producing this highly-addictive substance while supporting local programs aimed at helping those who have fallen prey to its poison. There is no room for partisanship in this fight. Choking off the supply and cutting demand for fentanyl must be at the top of the federal government's to-do list.

• U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, is a Democrat from Schaumburg.

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