VP Harris gives little attention to southern border, China when addressing fentanyl epidemic

Just two milligrams of fentanyl is enough to kill someone.

Published: July 19, 2023 11:43pm

Updated: July 20, 2023 8:49am

Vice President Kamala Harris in public remarks this week about the country's fentanyl crisis focused mostly on addiction and overdose treatments, devoting less time to root causes for the mass influx of the drug into the U.S. – including China as a major supplier and the U.S.-Mexico border as a primary port of entry.

"We each recognize and have joined together today because we are facing a public health crisis," Harris said before meeting with seven attorneys general at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C. 

Harris, President Biden's immigration czar, also called in her remarks for a fentanyl response that "addresses the underlying public health concerns." 

But the top concerns she listed were addiction and treatment, before briefly mentioning "public safety and an appropriate law enforcement response" regarding "what we know to be trafficking and some of the motivation for the the passage of fentanyl throughout our country and across our borders."

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid.

Roughly 107,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022, with 67% of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The agency says Mexico and China are the primary source countries for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances but India has emerged as a source for finished fentanyl powder and chemicals to make the drug.

Nowhere in her remarks did Harris suggest ramping up border security or punishing China.

Critics of the Biden administration say the fentanyl influx is the result of President Biden's soft border and immigration policies.

Since Biden took office in 2021, there have been an estimated 6.3 million illegal crossings, including 1.3 million 'gotaways' who have never been apprehended. Also under Biden, Border Patrol has seized more than 47,900 pounds of fentanyl.

A deadly dose of fentnayl is just two milligrams, meaning enough of it has been seized in the U.S. to kill 10.8 billion people, which is more than exist on Earth. Harris noted it's the leading cause of death for 18-42 year olds in America.

A recent congressional memorandum says China ships the drug's ingredients to Mexico, where it is produced by the cartels. This is, however, fairly new. Prior to 2019, China was known to be the number one direct supplier of fentanyl to the States before seemingly offloading production.

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said China's practice of exporting the precursor chemicals is done with the "total acceptance and acquiescence" of its government.

Todd Robinson – a State Department official in the agency's counter-narcotics division – recently said China is refusing to take "basic steps" to help mitigate the importing of the drug into the U.S.

Harris, in her remarks Wednesday, said her first steps toward ending the fentanyl crisis include addiction services and funding expanded access to the overdose drug naloxone, or Narcan.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown argues in a recent opinion piece that such efforts are only part of the solution. 

Working to prevent and treat substance use is "not enough," she said. "Since all fentanyl used in the United States is produced abroad, stemming the flow of the drug into the country is essential as well."

Harris in her remarks also misstated fentanyl's potency.

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 150 times more potent than oxycodone, but Harris read it as "50 percent more potent than heroin and up to 150 percent more potent than oxycodone."

The White House corrected the error in the official transcript of her remarks.

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