A Million Dollar Drug Surprise in Alabama | Fentanyl

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1 million dollars worth of illegal drugs wash up on an Alabama shore as Opioid related deaths continue to skyrocket

A Million Dollar Surprise

Early last week, someone walking on a beach in Alabama noticed something strange. Lying ahead of them, buried in the sand were two containers — a one-kilo brick of cocaine and 21 pounds of marijuana. Later in the day, another beachgoer found 38 more kilos of cocaine.

Federal authorities in Orange Beach, Alabama think the drugs were thrown from a passing ship and are working with U.S. Customs, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to track the origin of the drugs by analyzing ocean drift currents. Apparently, drugs wash onto the shore once or twice a year, but this instance is particularly rare given that the packages are worth more than one million dollars

While the amount of drugs that washed up in Orange Beach is staggering, the fact that it happened isn’t unusual. Small speedboats are often used to smuggle drugs into California from Mexico and also into the southern United States from the Dominican republic. In 2017, The Washington Post reported that in the five years between 2011 and 2016, border officials reported more than 300 attempts to smuggle drugs via boat. There’s no way to know how many of them reach their destinations, or how much of the cargo washes up on beaches around the country. Some other, more creative ways of smuggling include ultralight aircraft, drones, catapults, and air compression guns.

Where do the drugs come from?

Most drugs however, are smuggled into the country through legal ports of entry using vehicles fitted with hidden or disguised compartments. In an April 2019 interview with NPR, Gil Kerlikowske, who was the director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2014-2017, said that well over 90% of the drugs that enter The United States do so in vehicles at the southern border.

When we think of drug trafficking, we usually imagine mules loaded with marijuana being hiked through the desert. In fact, the drugs that are killing people in the United States – methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl – almost exclusively enter the country through legal ports of entry hidden in vehicles. While the southern border accounts for the majority of the marijuana brought into the country illegally, more dangerous drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine enter the country through northern and coastal borders. Sources that track the flow of illegal drugs estimate that smuggling at the coastal and northern borders accounts for nearly 83% of the cocaine in the country.

 This is especially troubling news as America is in the grip of a deadly opioid crisis. Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. In 2017, more than 17,000 people died of overdoses caused by opioids, a dramatic increase from the roughly 3,500 only seven years before. Misuse of drugs like pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl, and the addiction that often follows, has created a serious threat to public health, economic welfare, and national security.

Experts agree that the crisis began with the overprescribing of legal pain medication like Oxycontin, but recognize that an influx of cheap heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl from foreign drug cartels has exacerbated the problem. Much of the fentanyl available in the United States is produced in China, taken by boat to Mexico, then funneled through the border. Eighty Percent of the drug is brought into the country though border crossings in San Diego, CA before being distributed throughout the country.

Fentanyl is also shipped through the United States Postal Service. Mail circulated through the USPS is often sorted and checked by hand, as opposed to being viewed digitally like pieces of mail delivered by companies like Fed-Ex and UPS, and as such has become a relatively safe way for distributors to mail small amounts of the incredibly potent drug directly to people in the United States. Both methods are fueling a catastrophic epidemic, transporting a drug so powerful that as little as the equivalent of a few grains of salt can cause a fatal overdose. 

What we’re doing to stop it

In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and his administration has implemented regulations directed at slowing the over-prescription of opioids. The SUPPORT act, passed in 2018, aims to cut opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years and expand opportunities for evidence-based treatments for opioid addiction. The main goal of the bill is to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. Whether or not this can be accomplished without also coordinating with Mexico in an effort to reduce its own drug use, availability, and lack of regulation is unknown, but working toward stopping the influx of opioids into the country through established drug pipelines is a good start.

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