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The bipartisan Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking was charged with examining aspects of the synthetic opioid threat to the United States, and with developing a consensus on a strategic approach to combating the illegal flow of synthetic opioids into the United States. It just published it’s final report.

The Commission was composed of representatives of seven executive branch departments and agencies, four sitting members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and four subject-matter experts from the private sector chosen for their deep experience and expertise on this topic.

Sadly, the report begins by saying the “overdose crisis in the United States claims more lives each year than firearms, suicide, homicide, or motor vehicle crashes.” And goes on to report that some two-thirds of these deaths – about 170 fatalities each day, primarily among those ages 18 to 45 – involved synthetic opioids. The primary driver of the opioid epidemic today is illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

The report found that Mexico is the principal source of this illicit fentanyl and its analogues today. In Mexico, cartels manufacture these poisons in clandestine laboratories with ingredients – precursor chemicals – sourced largely from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The opioid crisis in the United States first gained public attention in the 2000s. Decades of an oversupply of prescription opioid pain medications beginning in the mid-1990s seeded its origins. Starting around 2014, potent synthetic opioids – mostly, illegally manufactured fentanyl – began their sharp rise in U.S. drug markets. Although they increasingly displaced prescription opioids and heroin in some places, these new drugs rapidly worsened an already-alarming public health problem.

The emergence of counterfeit tablets that contain minute quantities of synthetic opioids is particularly troubling. Drug traffickers in Mexico produce most of these tablets, but illegal pill pressing does occur to a lesser extent in the United States and Canada.

The Commission developed 21 key actions supported by 78 enabling actions that address the most-salient and -actionable challenges that the United States faces today in combating the flow and use of illegally manufactured synthetic opioids.

And as the federal government mulls over these findings and recommendations, recent studies show that San Francisco overdose deaths far exceed COVID deaths. Over the past two years, the city has seen more than 1,360 drug overdose fatalities – more than double the total COVID-19 death toll there. The majority of those deaths were in the Tenderloin and neighboring SOMA district.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced an “emergency declaration” for the area last month saying drug deaths, open-air drug dealing, street chaos and violence there had gotten “totally out of control.” She vowed “tough love” for those who break the law and expanded access to help for those with alcohol and substance use disorders.

However, concurrently with this new report, the Biden administration is being heavily criticized for announcing a $30M grant to fund free crack pipes, in what might appear to some as a mixed message to addicts.

On Tuesday, US Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wrote to the department of Health and Human Services, expressing “grave concerns” that a $30 million grant program from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) could include subsidizing drug paraphernalia.

Government-funded drug paraphernalia is a slap in the face to the communities and first responders fighting against drugs flowing into our country from a wide-open southern border,” Ms Blackburn wrote in her letter. “If this is the president’s plan to address drug abuse, our nation is in serious trouble.”