Several groups of people have been apprehended during a major drug trafficking swoop in Michigan and the opioid-riddled state of West Virginia.
United States Attorney Mike Stuart, who represents the region’s southern district, made some remarks concerning the dire state of West Virginia’s drug problem.
According to his comments, the state suffers an opioid epidemic whose scale stinks to the high heavens. This reality has been aggravated by an inflow of narcotics from Detroit.
Stuart intimated that the drug enforcement operation involved the efforts of hundreds of officers of the federal, state and local caliber.
This sweep focused on the apprehension of about 100 individuals, which would go a long way in disrupting an otherwise elaborate distribution network.
To this effect, about 30 persons were arrested in West Virginia’s second-largest city. Among the arrested people included drug ring leaders that were situated in Huntington and Detroit.
These criminals represented an established drug organization that had been doing business in Huntington for over a decade.
Furthermore, Stuart revealed that the operation—referred to as Project Huntington and Operation Saigon Sunset—was long-sighted in design since it targeted drug trafficking rings in Huntington instead of the regular peddlers and drug junkies.
This operation proved to be successful following the bust of colossal amounts of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine prior to the arrests.
Reportedly, the amount of fentanyl seized by law enforcement officers was sufficient to cause 250,000 human deaths.
Fentanyl is an exceedingly potent synthetic opioid that is often coupled with heroin. The drug is typically sourced from the dark web through established marketplaces.
According to United States judicial officers, the majority of fentanyl analogs that find their way into U.S. soil are transported via express shipping systems and the mail service.
The state of West Virginia has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the main sources of drug overdose-related deaths.
Particularly, Cabell County suffers a drug epidemic that has seen the inception of a severe public health crisis in most parts of Huntington.
Just to highlight this problem, an August 2016 drug incident was reported to have involved opioid overdoses of 14 people within a five-hour time frame.
Opioids: The Dawn of a Public Health Crisis
A 2017 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) marked the estimated cost of the opioid crisis to be half a trillion dollars in 2015 alone.
This statistic accounted for about 3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), a figure that is reportedly six times greater than previous estimates regarding the crisis.
In the same year, more than 30,000 Americans succumbed to drug overdoses that were linked to opioids.
The CEA revealed that previous economic costs had been greatly underestimated by undervaluing deaths resulting from the drug overdose.
The 2015 estimates were thus achieved following a careful analysis of conventional economic determinants for valuing population health.
The Trump administration acknowledged the opioid crisis as a public health emergency in October 2017. In an address, the U.S. President expressed strong views against the drug vice and declared his commitment to ensuring that the crisis is dealt with accordingly.
He remarked that there was an important need to liberate American communities from the shackles of drug addiction.
Shortly thereafter, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction provided a report with key recommendations on suitable methodologies for bringing the opioid crisis to a halt.
Among the ideas presented in the paper included the advancement of medical interventions in treating drug addicts, the expansion of drug courts in the U.S. and the refinement of civic education on matters concerning drug abuse.
The U.S. government has established various strategies in battling the opioid crisis. Law enforcement has been the key method of containing an emergency that threatens to defile the American social fiber.
This has been seen through numerous cases of darknet market takedowns and the arrest of drug-related criminal rings.
Perhaps the most significant government intervention has been the formation of the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) taskforce in January 2018.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement concerning the resource that would augment the efforts of federal law enforcement agencies to target opioid sales in the country. In a statement, he warned criminals hiding behind the veil of the darknet and placed them on notice concerning the J-CODE’s commitment to raiding their hideouts.
Sessions revealed that U.S. law enforcement had already breached darknet criminal networks, and is ambitious in their quest to bring the criminals to justice.
Additionally, he echoed that the government had stepped up its investment in fighting the opioid crisis that has been considered to be the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history. This has been combined with a joint effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Justice in tackling the looming epidemic.
The J-CODE team is expected to join the onslaught against online marketplaces that support the sale of banned substances. It will advance the FBI’s objective of destroying online opioid drug rings that have wreaked havoc in American society.
The first step has been the assignment of numerous special agents and intelligence officers to the J-CODE outfit. This way, the government believes that the country will experience an overall decrease in drug addiction and the associated drug-related deaths.
Certainly, the formation of the J-CODE team can be considered to be the outgrowth of past government-level efforts to tackle the opioid crisis. Attorney General Sessions had been a key figure in the 2017 takedown of AlphaBay, one of the most popular darknet markets at the time of its seizure.
Sessions had convened a press conference to announce the key milestone in the fight against dark web-sourced drugs. In his remarks, he declared that AlphaBay’s shutdown was just but the beginning of a dedicated effort by the Department of Justice to restore stability in the American public.
He promised that his department will continue to target the darknet marketplaces to ensure that drug criminals lack a place to engage in their illegal business.
A month later, Sessions directed the establishment of a data analytics program dubbed the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which was tasked with investigating healthcare fraud tied to opioids.
To this effect, Sessions chose prosecutors to select hotspot areas that are characterized by the prevalence of opioid abuse.
Moving on, U.S. lawmakers have also been vocal concerning the need for the government to solve the opioid crisis once and for all. The legislators have created a strategy that aims to arrest the rising drug-related death toll in the country and advance prospects of treating opioid addicts.
The mechanism involves the compelling of drug manufacturers to cover the costs incurred in solving the drug crisis.
About 15 states have moved to impose taxes on prescription painkillers, and the proceeds would be channeled to programs designed to treat opioid abuse and prevent cases of drug addiction.
In the state of Montana, Senator Roger Webb believes that this strategy will go a long way in enforcing responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry by holding drug manufacturers accountable for the drug crisis in the country.
In defense, drug manufacturers and their distributors have come out to argue against the practicality of this resolution. In their view, imposing taxes on prescription drugs will only make healthcare unaffordable to many Americans.
Regarding this, taxpayers and patients will bear the bulk of economic implications that would arise from the implementation of the strategy.
Similarly, John Parker, a spokesperson for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, warned that the move by U.S. legislators will only threaten the lives of legitimate patients and individuals suffering from terminal illnesses—they will not be able to access necessary prescriptions accordingly.
Opinion: What More Needs to Be Done?
At this point in time, the opioid epidemic can only be dealt with through appropriate budget allocations and subsequent funding.
Funds are necessary for financing the various facets forming the fight against the U.S. drug crisis.
First, enough money must be made available for treatment programs that target community healing and rehabilitation.
Funds should also be directed towards capacity building in the health sector and the recruitment of additional people to take part in the fight against the current epidemic.
The personnel should be distributed across all U.S. cities and states and be assigned to well-equipped health institutions.
Arguably, the government should also prioritize the lives of persons using prescription opioids for non-medical reasons.
This translates to an increased availability of naloxone in American communities. Naloxone is a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Unfortunately, this antidote is rather expensive.
This truth was once highlighted by Leana Wen, Baltimore’s Health Commissioner, who revealed the monumental cost of administering the drug in the area. The drug is about $125, with an auto-injector device that costs thousands of dollars.
This is very costly considering the fact that drug overdose victims typically need several shots of the drug to be revived.
In the case of the highly powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, a large amount of naloxone is required to do the job.
Moreover, law enforcement officers are required to carry naloxone during drug operations. This is usually a precautionary measure in cases where they come in contact with dangerous opioids.
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