Drug overdose deaths have reached another record high. In the 12-month period ending in September 2021, it is estimated that 104,288 people died of a drug overdose in the United States. While nationally overdoses went up by an estimated 15.9%, in Alabama drug overdoses are estimated to have increased by 24.8%. The majority of these deaths are caused by fentanyl poisoning, a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Just two milligrams, enough to sit on the tip of a pencil, is enough to kill most Americans, and 175 Americans die daily from fentanyl poisoning. Fentanyl is the number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 45, with far greater death rates than that of suicide and COVID-19, the second and third highest killers respectively.

So, how did we get here? Opioid addiction has become a prolonged epidemic in the United States, and it has now been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To understand where we are today, we must look back to the 1990s. Healthcare providers began to prescribe opioids at higher rates as pharmaceutical companies assured them that their patients would not become addicted to the opioid pain relievers. The opposite turned out to be true, and patients across the country - regardless of gender, sex, or income - began to misuse these highly addictive opioids. Ever since opioid misuse and overdose have been steadily rising.

Once the pandemic hit, the opioid crisis got exponentially worse. In 2020, nearly 92,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States. The COVID shutdown in March 2020 brought isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty, causing many to rely more heavily on their unhealthy coping mechanisms or relapse. In conjunction with higher reliance, the drug supply for most users was interrupted due to the shutdown. This means many users waited longer periods of time between doses, losing tolerance or turning to new, more potent, drugs, all contributing factors to the record high opioid death rates.

The fentanyl and other drugs that caused these deaths by and large came across the southern border. Organized crime groups have been able to thrive with the Biden administration’s open border policy. Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized enough doses of fentanyl to kill every single American. And more keeps pouring in. Drug cartels mass produce fentanyl and market it as Xanax, Adderall, or Oxycontin, then unsuspecting users ingest the fentanyl, overdose, and die. Drug traffickers are lacing cocaine, heroin, and other drugs with fentanyl, again causing an accidental overdose. Drug dealers are utilizing social media to push these fake drugs, creating greater accessibility for these fake or laced drugs.

But the cartels in Mexico and Latin America are not the only players in the drug game. The chemicals in these illicit drugs are coming from China. This is not a new development. Until recently, China was the primary source of fentanyl trafficked into the U.S. Online, Chinese vendors are selling the precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl as well as fentanyl analogs directly to Americans as well as to the Mexican cartels, who are now responsible for the greatest amount of fentanyl trafficked into the U.S.

This health crisis morphed into a national security threat. By allowing the border to continue in the state it’s in, the Biden administration is allowing more fentanyl and illicit drugs to flow into this country and kill Americans. Everyone, regardless of political party, should be fighting to keep Americans safe and alive.

Here in Alabama, state legislators are taking steps to address this crisis. Senator Jim McClendon and Representative Allen Treadaway are among those who have sponsored a bill that would allow people to possess fentanyl testing strips in an effort to curb deaths caused by unknowingly ingesting fentanyl. Over half of drug overdoses in Alabama involved opioids, and the passage of this bill will help to prevent these deaths from occurring. While some see this bill as promoting drug usage, that is not the case. The passage of this bill will actively save the lives of Alabamians. The penalty for drug usage is not death. Legislators should support saving the lives of Alabamians and can do so through the passage of this bill.

As I said before, this epidemic is killing more Americans aged 18-45 than the pandemic, and yet the Left continues to push for restrictions regarding the pandemic public health crisis far more than any restrictions at the border that would help curb the opioid crisis. Legislators need to come together to protect Americans. We cannot allow the number of drug overdoses in this country to continue to rise. It is high time we treat this epidemic as the primary public health crisis facing this nation. Legislators need to secure our border immediately, and then work to provide resources to those who have become addicted to these opioids and illicit drugs. We cannot allow the future of this country to fall into a cycle of drug misuse and overdose.

Legislators in D.C. allowed for this crisis to grow, it’s time that they get to work to fix it.

Dr. Chad Mathis is a former senior policy advisor at Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, entrepreneur, and a distinguished fellow at the Alabama Policy InstituteThe views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.