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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Abatement council crucial against opioid crisis

The Columbian
Published: March 28, 2024, 6:03am

Fentanyl has ratcheted up the financial and social costs of the United States’ opioid crisis. It also has intensified the focus on border security.

In one example of the costs, the cities of Vancouver, Camas and Washougal have formed the Southwest Region Opioid Abatement Council. That will allow the cities to receive funds from a court settlement between the state of Washington and the manufacturers and distributors of opioids. Vancouver will receive approximately $8.5 million, while Camas will get $1.3 million and Washougal $630,000; Clark County is expected to receive $22 million.

Under the agreement, the money may be used for improving and expanding addiction treatment; supporting people in recovery by providing wrap-around services such as housing, transportation and education; increasing the availability of overdose medication; enhancing a prescription drug monitoring program; and supporting first responders.

The money comes from a pharmaceutical industry that for years promoted the pain-killing attributes of legal opioids while showing little concern for their addictive properties. Those business tactics contributed to an increase in addiction and also eased the path for illicit fentanyl to grab hold in the marketplace.

But robust public spending also is needed, and that is where border security comes in. As U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said in December: “Today, the majority of precursor chemicals for illicitly manufactured fentanyl come from China and are synthesized into fentanyl in Mexico. Fentanyl is then smuggled across the border into the United States. This means fentanyl is not only a public health emergency with devastating human and substantial economic costs.” It also is a national security issue.

The continuing resolutions passed by Congress last week to keep the federal government operating included boosts for border security. The legislation earmarks $9.5 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement; $850 million for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to procure new marine vessels and aircraft; and $650 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to relieve crowding in migrant holding facilities.

As Troy Miller of Customs- and Border Protection said last year: “In my 30 years as a customs official, the trafficking of synthetic illicit drugs like fentanyl is one of the toughest, most daunting challenges I have ever seen … And we know what works: Intelligence-driven operations, relentless, targeting people, partnerships, and technology. CBP is well positioned to lead the federal government’s efforts in this fight.”

The latest measures are helpful, but a bipartisan bill that generated broad support in the Senate would provide even greater boosts to personnel for guarding the border and processing asylum-seekers. At the urging of Donald Trump, that bill has been ignored by the House of Representatives.

Urgency is needed at the local, state and federal level. Fentanyl is considered 50 times more powerful than heroin, and its growing prevalence has contributed to a rise in overdose deaths across the country. More than 112,000 overdose deaths were reported in the United States in 2023, and a majority of those were attributed to fentanyl.

The formation of a local abatement council can help ensure that settlement funds are used in the most effective manner. It also can provide oversight and coordination among municipal governments.

Ideally, it will be an important piece of a national effort that can help mitigate a growing crisis.