Who and what is the biggest threat to America’s national security? The question conjures up sinister thoughts of ISIS, hypersonic strategic missiles, suicide extremists and Russian sabotage of our national elections.
Who and what is killing more Americans each and every year, and by the thousands more than were killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam? The answer is the narcotics cartels of Mexico and Colombia. The ammunition is heroin and fentanyl. The biggest source of synthetic fentanyl is China, and although the Chinese government has made the production of fentanyl illegal outside of the medical arena, illegal production continues to make its way to Mexico on container ships camouflaged in soaps, drinks, foods and many other nefarious ways.
The biggest of the “who” and the largest today is the Mexican known as “Sinaloa,” followed by the Colombian cartel known as “Othniel.”The infamous Medellin cartel remains large, even after the capture of its former leader, El Chapo, and the biggest transnational distributor of both Mexican and Colombian drugs is the syndicate known as La Oficina, “The Office.” These names should be as familiar and common in our political and working vocabulary as ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Mafia. The havoc, destruction, damage and tragedy that these cartels and drug dealers have caused to this nation is unprecedented.
But the “who” is even more complicated than country, cartel or syndicate. Because fentanyl is so easy and cheap and available, domestic drug dealers infuse it in cheap powders, fake pills, candy and marijuana to grossly expand their profits.
What about the “where?” Beyond the derelict and permissive Latin American countries there’s a global criminal dimension to the problem. Ben Westhoff, author of “Fentanyl Inc.”, says the “where” has become global in nature because, “It is widely available on the dark web, an untraceable online network, and easily shipped in the mail.”
The Center for Disease Control reports that during the pandemic, from April 2020 to April 2021, 100,330 Americans died from drug overdoses. As big as that number is, some perspective is in order. The total number of American soldiers lost in both Iraq and Afghanistan over more than 20 years was 7,054. We lost just over 58,000 American lives in Vietnam. That 100K number is worth repeating, In one year of drug overdoses, we lost over 100,000 American lives and that doesn’t factor in all the overdosed lives that were saved by Naloxone (Narcan). That’s more Americans lost to drugs in one year than we lost in decades of fighting national-security wars in South Asia and the Middle East.
While comparing the deaths of soldiers who gave it all for their country to drug deaths is on many levels a false equivalency, it remains a comparative measurement. And it should be noted that many of these drug deaths were and are soldiers who have returned from combat suffering from PTSD.
In a report on the stealthy nature of fentanyl in the New York Times (Nov. 21, 2021) John Tavolacci, the executive vice president of Odyssey House, a drug rehabilitation center in New York, emphatically says that fentanyl is more than a drug, “This is poison.” In that same article, Corey Russell, a former addict and now an anti-fentanyl activist, calls the drug “a beast.”
To be clear, “the who” that are threatening our national security are the narcotic cartels. They are the primary culprits. Secondary, but still prime, are the irresponsibly permissive and narcotic ridden countries, especially China, Mexico and Colombia. These nations facilitate the drug business by tolerating those businesses through laissez-faire inaction related to the manufacture and transport of drugs. Tertiary, but still prime are our domestic drug dealers. These people are, in no uncertain terms, domestic terrorists, complicit with the narcotic cartels and deserving of the harshest and severest punishments. We need to make the drug dealing business such a high-risk, no reward endeavor, with such a high price to pay that only the most malcontented nihilists would even think of dealing.
What is happening today in America reminds me of the 19th century Chinese Opium Wars. They were the result of the British government, and in particular the British East India Trade Company, using the sale of opium into China as currency for the purchase of exotic Chinese goods. By western design, opium addictions in China grew and hollowed out Chinese society, basically parallelizing and then destroying the last Chinese dynasty.
What happened to China is a cautionary analog to what can happen with the effects of cheap fentanyl as it proliferates and then penetrates American society. According to CDC data, from 2016-2019, Ohio has lost an average of 4,474 people a year, most of which occurred in ages between 25-44. Highland County has unfortunately experienced this drug devastation, but Highland County is a bullseye of sorts. Highland County is completely surrounded by counties averaging almost double its death rate. Highland County’s is 26.3 per 100,000. Surrounding counties average 50.15 per 100,000. No data is available about how many thousands have been saved by Narcan.
Bottom line, drug cartels are a serious and deadly national security threat, much greater than most imagine. But there is a lurking domestic enemy, complicit with these manufacturers and distributors of death. That enemy is within, the merchants of death who deal the drugs that kill on the streets of Ohio and America. It’s a poison that can eat away at the fabric of our nation. It’s time for our government to muscle up, get tough and make these merchants of poison pay, and pay dearly.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.