tv Washington Journal Nick Miroff CSPAN December 16, 2022 6:47pm-7:17pm EST
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host: joining us next is nick miroff who covers the department of homeland security for the washington post, one of several reporters on a major investigative story the post is running. the piece is called cartel rx. fentanyl's deadly search. 170,000 died of drug overdoses in 2021. what was behind the team of yours investigating this story and how long did it take you to get it ready for publication? guest: the statistic you just read was what drove us to want to dig into this and find out what was going on. when i saw more than 100,000 people were dying a year from drug overdoses and that was the highest total ever, it just seems like something people were not paying close attention to. we were coming out of the
pandemic. we were aware this trend was going on, that fentanyl had spread, that it had deepened the opioid crisis in the united states, but we wanted to understand it and explained it and tell the story to the people who are affected by it. our team came together. it was reporters here and in mexico working with photographers, videographers, graphic artists, designers, and we work on this for the whole year. very intensely the last few months to bring it to print. host: i will point to a very in-depth story at washington post.com, lots of important video there as well. you are one of the half-dozen reporters writing this piece. in your writing, it has been pointed out that going back to the bush administration,
mistakes were made in terms of dealing with the drug trade across the u.s.-mexico border. what are some of the key mistakes you see that have been made over the years? guest: when something this big it is too easy to blame it on one administration or one failure. what we found is this accumulation of mistakes and errors that have led to this point and it has been administrations of both parties and they invoke multiple institutions. the big thing is when confronted with the most lethal narcotics crisis in american history, a lot of the institutions that were created to manage and confront something like this have fallen down. that includes the dea, which has gone through five acting temporary leaders between 2015 and 2021, when this fentanyl surge was going on.
the last administration spent billions on a border wall that does not do anything to stop fentanyl trafficking because the majority of the fentanyl is coming through legal points of entry. we do not have the scanning technology that would help u.s. customs and border protection to detect this illegal fentanyl production. there ha been plans, but those are years behind. it includes the white house drugs are -- the white house drug czar that the trump administration was primed to
aluminathe obama administration removed from the cabinet and our health and human services. we have an inability to understand how many people are dying from no, how many people are using it -- how many people are dying from fentanyl, how many people are using it, how to stop it, and the statistics are staggering. host: our phone lines are open for your questions and comments with nick miroff. (202) 748-8000 for you in the eastern and central time zones. (202) 748-8001 mountain and pacific, and if you and your family have been impacted by the fentanyl crisis, the line is (202) 748-8002. we would be very interested in hearing from you. explain how the crackdown on pharmaceutical opioids led to a spike in the production and availability of fentanyl in the u.s.. guest: many of your viewers will
remember, this is not the beginning of the opioid crisis in the united states. it was the opioid manufacturers a generation ago that got millions of americans hooked on prescription painkillers. when the dea and other law enforcement finally did crackdown, it left a vacuum in the market that that was something the mexican drug trafficking organizations recognized as a lucrative opportunity and they fill that vacuum first with illegal heroin and then they transition into sentinel and they soon realized -- into sentinel and they soon realized that by importing chemicals and setting up clandestine laboratories they could make it illegal fentanyl abundantly and with much greater ease and fewer logistical hassles then having to pay farmers and control land and smuggle something bulkier than
fentanyl. fentanyl is extremely potent, compact, easy to smuggle, and as a result very cheap. one of the most surprising things we found in reporting this is let's say a generation ago when prescription pills were being diverged onto the streets and used by opioid addicts, they were priced at one dollar a milligram. an oxycontin pill would sell for about $30 a pill. pretty expensive. a fake oxycodone pill that is really a fentanyl pill made by mexican trafficking organizations cells on the streets of phoenix or los angeles for just four dollars or five dollars. the price of being addicted has gone way down, even as the potency of these opioids has increased as well as their lethality. host: i want to ask you about
the m 30, the fake opioid pill. is there any evidence that users are aware that these things are really deadly? there is a potential for them to have an overdose is pretty strong, it would not be atypical opioid pill of that strength. it is much stronger. guest: i am glad you brought up the m 30. the m 30 was manufactured by one of the big u.s. opioid manufacturers and the cartels are making fake m 30's called blues on the street, and they look completely identical to the actual prescription pills, except instead of being oxycodone pills, they are illegal fentanyl pills. the dosage that some of the cartels have been able to
perfect is pretty consistent. someone buying those on the streets is playing with their life because there is always the chance it contains an even greater dosage of fentanyl and a lethal dosage. there are two larger groups of people who are dying in this epidemic, and the first is people with opioid addictions who are taking too much for whose tolerance has gone down, and they suddenly go back and try to take the same amount, and they are dying, but also people with no opioid tolerance who do not know they are taking fentanyl, like these five friends we wrote about today in the washington post who were partying in an apartment in colorado. they thought they were sharing cocaine but the cocaine was laced with fentanyl. they did not have any opioid
tolerance and they were all killed in this tragic event. it is an extremely deadly drug. we are seeing record numbers of americans die as a result. host: you touched on the ports of entry. here is the story about the colorado deaths. they talk about the accessibility to major freeways and geography plays an important role. there is also a piece and you are serious about the huge spike in a town like st. george, utah. >> one of the things we found that almost all of the fentanyl in the united states come through the ports of entry, the official border crossings in the san diego area, or southern arizona. from there it goes to stash houses in las vegas, los angeles, and then spreads across the country. new england, appalachia are some of the hardest hit areas.
you find little trafficking cells all over the country. one of our stories takes readers to st. george, utah, where the dea filled a major case and busted a fentanyl trafficker working with the cartel in mexico. these drug cartels are illegal pharmaceutical companies at this point. they are bringing chemicals from asia into mexico, they are manufacturing pills, they have logistics networks across north america, they smuggle the drugs across the country and distribute them to hubs around the united states, just the way any large profit open business would do. host: i want to ask you about the response of the mexican government but we have calls waiting. let's get to those. we go to kathy on our line for those impacted by the crisis. good morning. caller: good morning.
this is all tragic with the fentanyl killing all of these people from the border. i think biden needs to be impeached over all of this. it is their fault. it needs to come out more. it is sad. host: what steps has the biden administration taken to address this issue in particular? guest: before i get to that i want to correct a misperception that i frequently hear that suggest record numbers of migrants who are crossing the border are bringing fentanyl. the truth is that is not accurate. while there are record numbers of migrants coming into the country over the last two years, all of this illegal fentanyl is being smuggled by trafficking organizations and they hide it in vehicles and cars and commercial trucks and they drive
it the official ports of entry. it is two separate phenomenon that are both created majo challenges for the department of homeland security. you ask whatiden administration is doing. the new dea administrator who was confirmed last year has placed more focus on fentanyl than any predecessor, and the agency says it has redoubled its efforts to go after the cartels, to dismantle their financial networks. they are making more cases. their prosecutions are up. they are fighting against a formidable enemy we are deep into this crisis. we did not detect a lot of optimism. it does look like we will be
with this for a while. host: let's go to warren in florida. caller: i just have a statement to make. i went through surgery and they gave me five days of painkillers once i got out. you can get addicted in five days. the problem is they hated them out like candy and then all of a sudden they stop handing them out. people in pain go to the streets and that is how they get poisoned by that drug if it is mixed. the problem comes in is when you crackdown and sue everybody for this, when you created the problem, the system did come and everybody else is trying to get pain relief. guest: a similar sentiment expressed by -- host: a similar sentiment expressed by stephen
on twitter sing the opioid crisis was never addressed. people who need pain medication were cut off in the illegal opioids filled with fennel became a booming business in the u.s.. guest: that is right. the number of people who needed to continue getting opioids in order to fend off withdrawal symptoms is very large and they have turned to the street. on the streets you can find these extremely cheap fentanyl pills. the danger is these pills get more and more potent. one of the things we have seen is the average dose of fentanyl and one of these fake oxycodone pills, the blues, the average dose has gone from 1.3 milligrams to 2.2 milligrams, and that is a reflection of the
nation's opioid tolerance going up. the market is demanding stronger and stronger pills because so many people are building up a tolerance. that makes the baseline dosage a lethal dose for somebody who does not have an opioid tolerance. people who are addicted are demanding stronger and stronger dosages and people who do not know they are taking fentanyl or do not have a fennel tolerance are at greater risk of dying. host: let's hear from austin on the line for those affected by the fennel crisis. caller: i was going to say the same thing is that guy. my doctor was my drug dealer with the fentanyl. i have another twist on this. united states was in afghanistan for 20 years. this problem started about 20 years ago.
they never burned the poppy seeds. that is where fennel comes from. -- that is where fentanyl comes from. another spin on it. host: what is the origin of fentanyl? what was it originally intended for? guest: fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. unlike heroin, fentanyl is made in a lab. it has legitimate medical usages. people may be familiar with fentanyl patches. doctors have always known it is very dangerous. if it is not administered by a physician in a controlled setting, the risk of death goes up.
one of the most astounding things about what has happened over the last few years is heroin has almost disappeared from u.s. streets. initially fentanyl was being added to heroin, but it is now replacing it in illegal drug markets. users who are not necessarily looking for fentanyl before are seeking out. there have been seizures of what they call rainbow fentanyl, the pills look almost like candy. one of the theories behind why the cartels are doing that as they are trying to signal these are fentanyl pills rather than fake oxycontin pills. host: i have heard stories that say in the past the drugs are manufactured by china, imported by the cartels in mexico. your reporting reveals the cartels have labs all across the
southern border area, below the southern border area. guest: that is right. in the initial stages of the fentanyl crisis most of the fentanyl was coming from china and coming through the mail in the united states for going to mexico, the cartels were buying it and trevor get across the border. over the past -- and trafficking it across the border. over the past several years, there was a crackdown in china, so now the cartels are bringing the chemicals from china but also india and other nations and their making it themselves. it is not that complicated. they can set up these labs in a storage unit in an apartment and they can crank out massive quantities of this stuff and then they obtain pill press
equipment and they get the fillers, like lactose or other fillers like that, and they make these pills and assemble their loads and smuggle them into the united states. host: let's hear from wesley in miami, florida. good morning. caller: thank you for taking my call. for as long as i've lived we've always attacked the suppliers of illegal drugs as the culprits, yet we are the ones were buying it. it seems an additional solution would be to attack the demand side of it from federal, state, and local governments to try to educate kids as young as five years old all the way up the danger of this stuff because if the demand is there the suppliers will find a way. you can chase down the suppliers for as long as you want but they will still find a way.
if we do not have the demand you would not have the suppliers. host: any thoughts on that? guest: he makes a great point and that is something we heard over and over from the law enforcement and federal agents on the front lines of this. if americans were not buying drugs then we would not have this problem. they emphasize the importance of parents and teachers talking to their kids about the dangers of fentanyl and not buying these legal products from people mexican drug cartels. -- from evil mexican drug cartels. i will say only looking at demand is also an oversimplification because there is a way supplied contrived demand. when supplies -- way supplied can drive demand. when supply is so abundant it can take demand. a lot of drug dealers are taking this illegal fentanyl and using
it to lace amphetamines and cocaine and other illegal drugs to get their customers addicted, to boost the potency of the drugs they are selling to give them a commercial advantage in the marketplace. there is an effort to create new addicts with fentanyl being so cheap and so plentiful, it really facilitates that. host: you quote former drug czar john walterse lack of information the government has on the drug problem in the country, saying "thout comprehensive data the federal governnts driving blind. this is like tracking the epidemic by visiting cemeteries." he says "we are not meari what is coming into the country in real time, we are not measuring what is happening with the health consequences. our drug control strategy is an
embarrassment and does not begin to propose way of reversing the problem." let's hear from leslie in hillsville, virginia. go ahead. caller: thank you for taking my call. i live in southwest virginia and have lived here my whole life. i am a health care worker. have been in the therapy industry for 30 years and i have watched this epidemic evolve. the other caller that said this has been going on for over 20 years is correct. this is not something that is just coming out now. i started out in my therapy career working with orthopedic patients and they were not prescribed these high level opioid medications for post surgery or moderate pain. now they are prescribing these things for just moderate pain for something that was designed for end of life treatment. for me personally, my best friend lost her son almost one
year ago to an accidental overdose from something that was laced with fentanyl. it is epidemic in my area. we are losing a generation of young people to this. i do not see things being done to take care of it. host: thanks for that, leslie. guest: thank you for your call. i remember going down to buchanan county in southwest virginia in 2007 when the prescription pill crisis was taking off. a lot of people in the community were struggling, trying to go to methadone clinics, trying to get off it. not getting the support and the resources they need. she points out that this is a problem that has been with us for a while. what is new is the potency and the legality and abundance of
fentanyl -- and the lethality and abundance of fentanyl. we did not get into the statistics beyond the annual death figure, but i want to point out fentanyl is the leading cause of death for americans between 18 and 49. it is killing more than gun violence, then suicides, and car accidents. this has come up on us really fast and it has gotten significantly worse during the pandemic. just since 2019 fatal overdoses from fentanyl in the united states are up 94%. in less than three years the number of people dying from this drop in the united states has doubled. host: we have a couple of minutes before the u.s. house comes in. we want to give you a chance to respond. one of your pieces in this series deals with the response of the mexican government. the headline is how the u.s.
lost a key ally in mexico as fentanyl took off. what is the current status of mexico and the united states in terms of mexico's efforts to stop the influx of fentanyl? guest: one of the key elements of this crisis is the u.s.-mexico security partnership fell apart around 2018 just as fentanyl was taking off and the cartels were making this transition from plant-based drugs like cocaine and heroin and marijuana into synthetics, may fennel and methamphetamine. for 10 years the u.s. mexico partnership was driven by an initiative, but by the time the current mexican president got into office, his new government declared that agreement dead and wanted to renegotiate a new one
-- social programs, trying to discourage young people from getting involved in drugs. it created a rift in that partnership and to this day u.s. agencies like the dea are still trying to re-accommodate themselves to this new reality. it has certainly limited their ability to operate in mexico and by many accounts it has strengthened mexican trafficking . host: nick miroff, hope we get more times with you. >> fridays at 8:00 p.m., c-span brings you afterwards from book tv, a program where nonfiction authors are interviewed on their latest books.
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