Why do you hear so much about fentanyl these days?


House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was criticized for comments he made during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night.

The drug fentanyl, he said, is “the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45.” He highlighted an example from the news to make the point: “I don’t know if you’ve just seen the story of a young woman who picked up a dollar bill on the floor of McDonald’s and fell because fentanyl was on that dollar bill” , McCarthy said. “That’s how deadly this is.”

Well, no, fentanyl isn’t that deadly. First and foremost, the woman didn’t die. But more importantly, the story being churned out in the tabloid media is almost certainly not true. There is no evidence the bill the woman is said to have touched contained fentanyl. Medical professionals have repeatedly stated that simply touching fentanyl is not enough to trigger an overdose or perhaps even any reaction. A researcher who spilled a large amount of liquid fentanyl on his hand found he was unaffected. So it’s not clear what happened to the woman or if she had any physical reaction that triggered her medical incident.

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But McCarthy didn’t just warn Fox News viewers that fentanyl is deadly — which it certainly can be if taken intentionally to get high. He exaggerates the risk of fentanyl to make one politically Point.

The Republican Party will present a “commitment to America,” McCarthy told Hannity, including a commitment to “secure the border and stop this fentanyl movement.” Because fentanyl was deadly, as the woman at McDonald’s proved. “We will hold this government accountable,” he added.

That’s often the point. Fentanyl was developed as a pain reliever to treat cancer. Drug abuse is dangerous and a real problem. But it’s also a useful political wedge.

The drug is a synthetic opioid, a type of intoxicant made in chemical laboratories. In 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a report detailing how the drug entered the United States, often originating in China.

The DEA had previously warned of fentanyl’s adverse effects, reporting in 2018 that the drug and similar synthetic opioids “have become the deadliest category of opioids used in the United States.” Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows both the increase in drug overdoses in the United States and the increasing proportion of those overdoses that are attributed to fentanyl-like drugs.

(Not all states report specific causes of overdoses. Those that do not are shown in gray above. Others did not use synthetic opioids every month during the above period.)

One of the first moments Americans became familiar with fentanyl was in June 2016, when fentanyl-spiked cocaine led to a series of overdoses in New Haven, Connecticut. Three people died. Search interest for “fentanyl” on Google, a good indicator of public interest, continued to grow from that point onwards, peaking in November 2018 when the government reported that the number of overdose deaths was in large part due to fentanyl has increased.

However, notice the rise starting around 2021 in the chart above. Interest in fentanyl had declined since peaking in 2018 but started to pick up again in early 2021.

One reason is the special kind of media attention McCarthy offers. Both CNN and MSNBC reported extensively on fentanyl in April 2021, when the drug was mentioned during the trial of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd murder case. That was unusual, though; The networks don’t usually give the drug much coverage.

Fox News, on the other hand, has – at least since February 2021.

You don’t have to be a political scientist to understand why. Fox News talks about fentanyl a lot more than its competitors, and it usually does so in the very context McCarthy does: on the US-Mexico border. Since President Biden’s inauguration, the network has tended to talk about fentanyl when it comes to immigration rather than discussing it in other contexts.

I dealt with this topic in May. It’s now common for Republican lawmakers and conservative media to point to fentanyl smuggling at the border as criticism of the government’s border policy — though confiscate The drug is what one would prefer after smuggling attempts, although similar seizures during the Trump administration have been hailed as examples of Trump’s robust approach to border security.

Fentanyl seizures skyrocketed in June 2020 and now account for a larger volume of seizures than heroin. But such seizures are still a relatively small part of what is stopped at the border. As the DEA explained in 2020, there is also a fentanyl smuggling scheme that crosses the Canada-US border; that gets a lot less attention.

Again, fentanyl is a dangerous drug that kills tens of thousands of people every year. But it’s also a useful political cudgel, often after its dangers have been exaggerated.

There’s another reason you’ve probably heard about fentanyl over the past few months that’s worth mentioning. A number of incidents have been reported in the past year in which police officers have allegedly come into contact with the drug and suffered an overdose. These stories have generally been debunked on a case-by-case basis, from an article in Defector last August to an article in the New York Times this week. As with the unfortunate woman at McDonald’s, there is no evidence that accidental contact between exposed skin and trafficked fentanyl can trigger a significant adverse reaction. As early as 2017, a statement from the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology and the American College of Medical Toxicology noted that “the risk of clinically significant exposure of emergency responders is extremely low.”

The CDC had nevertheless hosted a video on its occupational safety website warning that law enforcement was at risk of an overdose. The video focused on an alleged incident in Virginia, where even a CDC analysis found no intoxicants were present in the urine of officers involved in the incident. The video has been removed from the agency’s website.

What triggered physical reactions from the police? One guess is that they experience something called panic attacks, a physical manifestation of a psychological stressor. That Fentanyl Fear Is Weirdly Self-Reinforcing: People — Even Cops! – are so afraid of it that they react alarmingly to it.

It’s a fear Kevin McCarthy and Fox News are happy to amplify to make a political argument.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/07/15/why-youre-hearing-so-much-about-fentanyl-these-days/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_politics Why do you hear so much about fentanyl these days?

James Brien

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