According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdose.
Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., discusses fentanyl’s role as a driver of the opioid epidemic and legislative efforts underway to hinder drug trafficking in the U.S.
Anderson: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 36,000 Americans died with the synthetic opioid Fentanyl in their systems between 2011 and 2016. Hello and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Tetiana Anderson. The fight against drug trafficking has been a continuous battle impacting communities in all 50 states. Joining me to discuss the efforts to combat the drug trade is Republican congressman Michael Guest from Mississippi. And Representative Guest, thank you for being here, first of all.
Guest: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: Let's start at the beginning. What is Fentanyl? It's a common drug.
Guest: You know, Fentanyl is a drug that is often manufactured overseas. We see a lot of it manufactured now over in the Far East. Those drugs are brought into the United States generally through Mexico, and it is a very deadly drug in which a very small amount of Fentanyl can often cause someone to go into cardiac arrest. You know, I can tell you as a prosecutor, you know, I have seen firsthand the effects that drugs have on individuals, the effects that drugs have on our families and our communities. And whether we're dealing with a drug like Fentanyl or whether we're dealing with more street-level narcotics such as cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin. The large majority -- over 90% of those drugs -- street-level narcotics are not manufactured in the United States. They're manufactured in Central America, South America, and in some cases such as Fentanyl over in the Far East. They are then brought over to Mexico and then drug-trafficking organizations or drug cartels will then take those drugs and those drugs will then be introduced across our Southwest border, into the United States, and ultimately, the communities that we serve.
Anderson: It's a multi-billion dollar business, first of all. I mean, it's something that's, you know, it's hard to wrap your head around how much money this rakes in for the drug pushers who are pushing this into the country. And I know you said some of it is manufactured in Asia and being sent to Central America, but a lot of it is being ordered online from Asia and being sent right here to homes and businesses in the United States. How do you deal with that?
Guest: Well, you know, it's really two -- for one, if you're looking at the bulk smuggling, where you're smuggling large amounts -- hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of narcotics at a time, most of that is coming across the Southwest border, and so if we're going to stop the largest availability of the drugs coming into the country, it's going to require us dedicating the resources and manpower and technology and infrastructure to secure the border and to force all traffic through ports of entry. Once traffic's forced through ports of entry, then we'll be able to concentrate our manpower, our technology to screen commercial traffic that's coming through there, passenger traffic, and individuals. And so if you're looking at stopping the largest amount at one place, that is going to then deal with securing the border. We also need to do a better job as we're dealing with packages that are being shipped across into other ports of entry. Again, it comes down to screening, it comes down to us being able to invest in the manpower and the technology and the resources to screen cargo, to screen mail that is being brought into our country.
Anderson: So, you referenced this earlier. I know this is a personal issue for you. When you were a prosecutor in Mississippi, you sort of saw the rise of Fentanyl in your own community. What did you see at that time that let you know that this was nothing to be left unattended?
Guest: You know, what really separated Fentanyl from cocaine or methamphetamine, which are also terribly addictive drugs, is the dangerous nature of Fentanyl. The large majority of overdose deaths that we are seeing now across our country are not from individuals who are consuming cocaine and methamphetamine, but from individuals who are consuming drugs that are laced with Fentanyl. It takes only a very small dosage of Fentanyl to cause cardiac arrest in many individuals. And so in addition to increasing the addiction and the problems that go along with addiction, what has been so overwhelming about this is the overdose deaths that are attributed to Fentanyl across this country.
Anderson: And I believe at one point in Mississippi there was enough Fentanyl found in your state to kill half a million people, which is staggering.
Guest: That's right. On one single traffic stop that was made in Mississippi, there was enough Fentanyl that if -- and again, just based on the small amount that it causes to cause someone to have health concerns, that over half of our state could have been killed by the amount that was just found just on that single interdiction stop. And so, again, you know, that's going to involve the bulk smuggling of those drugs into our country. I will tell you, our law enforcement, both state and local, they are dedicated in what they do. They want nothing more than to see our communities be safe -- that they be safe from the drugs that cause so much harm to each and every member of our community.
Anderson: In all segments of the community, too. I mean, a lot of people think that this is just about rural white communities, but the rise and the use of Fentanyl has exacerbated in black and Latino communities. Is that an access issue?
Guest: It truly is an access issue. I think now that the drug is becoming more common, [you're seeing more and more groups that will use that. And again, you know, drug addiction does not discriminate.
Anderson: No, no.
Guest: It does not discriminate based on age, sex, race, income -- family income. You know, we see people of all ages, of all races, of all sexes who have been touched by drug addiction, and I believe it is having an impact on our country and that we must do all that we can to protect our children. As a father of two, I want to make sure that it is as difficult as possible for my two sons to be able to obtain any illegal substance, but particularly substances that are as dangerous as Fentanyl.
Anderson: Well, that is why I am glad you are here talking about this. Thank you so much.
Guest: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.