Stemming the Present and Future Epidemic

Jul 29, 2018

The United States is in the midst of its most severe drug epidemic since the 1980s. “In 2016, nearly 64,000 people died from drug overdoses, and over 30 percent of those deaths involved a synthetic opioid like fentanyl,” Alan Piracha of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said at a recent Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE conference on the threat of illicit drugs.

“And while the opioid crisis has hit North America particularly hard, any country with a connection to the internet and international mail could be vulnerable to an overdose crisis like the one we are seeing in the United States today,” he said.

OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont. (File)
OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont. (File)

That's because increasingly, transnational drug dealers are dealing in highly dangerous synthetic drugs that are produced in a laboratory, purchased by customers online and shipped by mail.

“Today, we see fentanyl in the United States, but tomorrow it could be synthetic cannabinoids in the [Southern Latin America], or cathinones in Southeast Asia.”

“In short, our international approach must be able to adapt to emerging challenges,” said Mr. Piracha.

The global community should begin by building an international framework to reduce the demand for illegal drugs. Mr. Piracha suggests a four-pillar approach to reducing global drug demand.

First, we must build a capable and knowledgeable prevention and treatment workforce worldwide through evidence-based training.

Second, treatment services around the world must be professionally operated to ensure that patients have access to quality care, and so we must develop and support credentialing and accreditation systems.

Third, we must build networks to connect the prevention and treatment workforce, researchers, and policymakers.

And finally, we must support populations with special clinical needs, such as rural communities.

“Work within this framework helps partner nations around the world prevent new initiates [to drug use], and build a strong foundation for the provision of treatment and recovery services,” said Alan Piracha.

We must also diligently share information, experiences and best practices when it comes to keeping our mail and consignment shipping services safe. And we must cooperate to shut down trafficking networks that exploit these essential services.

“The United States looks forward to continuing the robust suite of supply and demand reduction partnerships we have built around the world,” said Mr. Piracha, “and to working innovatively with the international community to tackle emerging trends.”