Who's to Blame for the Opioid Crisis?
When things aren’t going well, people always look for a scapegoat. When it comes to the opioid epidemic, the CDC’s preferred scapegoat has been pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, the DEA blames doctors for over-prescribing pain medication, and has tightened regulations on the quantity that can be prescribed. As we’ve learned from Dr. Jeffrey Singer over the years, the crackdown on prescription opioids has missed the mark and made the problem worse: addicted patients have turned to the black market to satisfy their demand, and gotten hooked on far more dangerous drugs like illicit heroin and synthetic Fentanyl. Singer calls the misguided war on opioids a “war on pain patients” with no end in sight.
More recently, Republican politicians have tried to score points against the Biden administration by scapegoating illegal immigrants for the problem of Fentanyl smuggling. Smuggling has indeed increased. However, a Washington Post op-ed by Cato scholars Singer and David Bier (associate director of immigration studies) reveals the folly of the Republicans’ accusations. Illegal immigrants are not the ones bringing Fentanyl across the border, they note. It’s mostly US citizens doing the smuggling. Ever since border enforcement has tightened, it has become more common for smugglers to conceal small amounts of the much more potent Fentanyl in otherwise legal border crossings.
David and Jeff join the show of ideas to discuss the inevitable unintended consequences of both the war on drugs and the war on immigrants. We will investigate the issue from the angle of the failure of drug prohibition, as well as the failure of strict immigration policy. Both of these problems share a common root cause – they seek to interfere with free markets. The laws of supply and demand don’t stop functioning just because an artificial legal boundary is erected – whether you’re talking about drugs or people.
The solution is simpler than you think – but first, we must assign the blame correctly. Will politicians examine their own role in creating the crisis, or will they continue to scapegoat innocent people?