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How Drug Prohibition Created the Fentanyl Crisis

December 22, 2018 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

As we’ve long suspected, fentanyl is killing more people than heroin, according to a new report from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). Does this mean that our drug-taking citizens have developed a taste for a new drug that gives a more powerful high? No, those deaths are a direct result of drug prohibition, and the numbers will continue to go up until we realize, once again, that prohibition doesn’t work.

Everyone knows that prohibition means drugs will often be adulterated, but prohibition also makes drugs stronger. Before alcohol Prohibition, beer and wine were the most popular drinks. After Prohibition, however, the cost of beer increased by more than 700 percent while the cost of high-potency spirits increased by only 270 percent. Smugglers and bootleggers preferred high-potency spirits because they are easier to transport illicitly. Consequently, distilled alcohol and fortified wines became almost 90 percent of alcohol consumption after Prohibition, compared to 40 percent before.

This is known as the iron law of prohibition. When drug traffickers fear getting caught, they prefer the highest potency version of a drug. During alcohol Prohibition, speakeasies were essentially bars that only served Everclear, but that didn’t mean Everclear was actually the most in demand. And, sure enough, after Prohibition ended, people quickly returned to low-potency beer and wine.

The introduction of fentanyl to our drug markets demonstrates the iron law of prohibition at its most dangerous. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, and it’s significantly more dangerous than traditional poisons like arsenic. A lethal dose of fentanyl is between 2 and 3 milligrams, compared to 100-300 milligrams for arsenic. There are 300-500 lethal doses in just one gram of fentanyl.

[pullquote]Nevertheless, due to the nature of black markets, we don’t really know what the demand for fentanyl would be in a legal or decriminalized market.[/pullquote]

That potency is useful for drug smugglers but dangerous to users. Fentanyl’s potency means hundreds of doses can be smuggled in the tiniest crevices of envelopes, packages, and shipping containers, and neither sufficient manpower nor adequate technology exists to stop it. As can be seen in the NVSS report, fentanyl began flooding the drug market in about 2014. In 2011, oxycodone was the No. 1 killer with 5,587 deaths. Fentanyl was 10th with 1,662. Then the government started cracking down on prescription opioids, and people started dying of fentanyl overdoses in shockingly large numbers. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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