More Americans died from fatal overdoses in 2020 than in any other year since we started tracking the data. It was both historic and tragic. But the coverage misses the big picture. While media outlets center the story around the COVID pandemic, it completely ignores the underlying cause of the surge: Democrat’s drug-permissive policies.
The New York Times framed the 2020 spike around COVID, making an already serious issue worse. The AP spoke with experts noting it was harder to get in-person treatment because of COVID restriction. The Washington Post implied COVID-related stress pushed people towards drugs.
There is little doubt COVID exacerbated the crisis but lost in the coverage were the actual policies that allowed addiction to skyrocket.
From Portland and Seattle to Chicago and Boston, Democrat-run cities have refused to prosecute most drug crimes. Instead, these cities have said they’d give addicts treatment while targeting drug dealers for arrest and prosecution.
But many criminal addicts seldom follow through with treatment orders because there are no meaningful consequences when ignoring the courts. Criminals knew that no matter how often they re-offended, they knew they wouldn’t see jail time.
Meanwhile, drug dealers avoid jail by easily exploiting drug decriminalization policies favored by the Left.
Take a look at Seattle, where I have covered the devastating toll drugs have taken on our communities over the last several years. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg announced his office would forgo charges against suspects caught with "personal possession" amounts of illicit drugs. This was already an unofficial policy but he codified it in 2018. And it effectively legalized whatever an addict could get ahold of.
A dramatic increase in overdose deaths followed.
From the year before the official policy change through 2020, King County saw a nearly 40% jump in fatal overdoses, with 2021 on pace to exceed last year’s record. Fentanyl, meth and heroin are the leading causes of overdoses.
You wouldn’t know that Seattle is in the midst of an O.D. crisis because ideologues locally ignore the results of their social experiment while liberal media outlets present the Emerald City as a case study in the right way to approach the war on drugs. New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof once even boasted, "Seattle has figured out how to end the war on drugs." Maybe he should visit or at least look at the stats?
Suffolk County, Mass. District Attorney Rachael Rollins is earning the same treatment. The Boston-area ideologue stopped prosecuting misdemeanor drug crimes. It was declared a success, though opioid-related deaths hit a ten-year record last year.
And then there are dealers who openly sell drugs across the cities where they live. The criminals carry less product so they only have personal possession amounts on them in the rare instance they’re arrested. They end up resupplying more often throughout the day, but it saves them the hassle of going to jail for a few hours.
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For other dealers, they know if charged, they’ll likely get a generous plea deal that sees little to no jail time. And many times, they illegally possess handguns and other weapons. With less policing against drug dealers, these guns stay on the streets and contribute to the rise in gun violence.
Mexican drug cartels have taken notice. With President Joe Biden’s open-border policies, they’re flooding American cities with illicit drugs.
"The Pacific Northwest of the United States is under siege by the Mexican based CJNG [Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación] cartel, who is flooding the region with clandestine produced synthetic opioids in the form of prescription pills," the Drug Enforcement Agency said in a report released this March.
The cartels targeted Washington State most directly. CJNG has reportedly laced drugs with fentanyl, sending the tainted drugs statewide. Small amounts of fentanyl can be deadly. In Oregon and California, the cartels are operating illegal marijuana operations.
Still, rather than address the root causes of the addiction crisis, left-wing cities adopt the drug-permissive policies already responsible for so much death.
Louisiana experienced one of the highest statewide surges in drug overdoses in 2020. Yet, the District Attorney Jason Williams' office announced in April it will refuse to prosecute charges possessing small amounts of all drugs, except for heroin and fentanyl. That exception is hardly meaningful, given how deadly prescription opioids, meth, and cocaine can be. It also contributes to a drug culture that says it’s OK to get high no matter the consequences.
Without leaders focusing on where the crisis is made worse, 2021 will likely see another record high year of overdose deaths.
So why won’t Democrats change their ways? Chalk it up to blind, stubborn adherence to an ideology.
There’s a progressive push to decriminalize and legalize drugs. They argue that the justice system is racist and drug crimes disproportionately punish people of color. Though that observation is lazy and disingenuous, since the crimes are still occurring and aren’t the result of a conspiracy to plant drugs on innocent people, it leads to deadly consequences.
Not prosecuting drug crimes may keep people out of jail, but it doesn’t keep them from an early overdose death. And the momentum behind these policies continues.
All of our communities are worse off because of it.