With her “Fentanyl Is a WMD Act,” the U.S. Representative has turned a deadly serious issue into a cultural play
By Jason Langendorf
When the United States federal government has gathered in the halls of Congress to pass judgment on weapons of mass destruction at other pivotal points in the country’s history, its track record for fact-finding, critical thinking and level-headedness has been lacking.
And here we are again.
Last week Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) introduced legislation to the House of Representatives that would officially declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction, requiring by law that the Department of Homeland Security treat the synthetic opioid as such.
Boebert’s methods are as ham-handed as her ambitions are naked, so maintaining a focus on the validity of the bill is the best use of our energy in this case.
Given the depth of the American opioid epidemic and the specific role of fentanyl in shaping the public health crisis, it might seem that the time has come for such drastic steps and that Boebert’s intentions should be accepted at face value as well-meaning. The statistics surrounding illicit use of fentanyl continue to trend toward the lethal, and in introducing the Fentanyl Is a WMD Act, Boebert spared none of them:
- In 2021, over 80,000 Americans died from opioids, including fentanyl
- One American dies of fentanyl every eight-and-a-half minutes
- Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45, surpassing suicide, COVID-19 and car accidents
- Last year, Border Patrol seized enough fentanyl to kill every American seven times over
- Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than other opioids, like morphine
But in the press release announcing the legislation, Boebert seemed preoccupied by one area of the problem above all others—and with a laser-focus on positioning it just so:
“The saddest thing about the fentanyl crisis is that it is preventable,” she states. “National security experts know that the vast majority of deadly fentanyl plaguing our communities comes across the southern border. Just last year, Border Patrol encountered enough fentanyl at the border to kill every American seven times over. There is no way around it—the Biden Border Crisis is killing Americans.”
A Political Ploy
No serious person would waste time clutching pearls over an elected official using a substance as a political football to serve their own agenda. Policymakers have been doing exactly that since well before Nixon’s War on Drugs began, and they’ll undoubtedly roll out the same tattered blueprint from time to time well into the distant future. Boebert’s methods are as ham-handed as her ambitions are naked, so maintaining a focus on the validity of the bill is the best use of our energy in this case.
But there’s the rub: Declaring fentanyl a WMD isn’t simply a symbolic gesture meant to express the depth of America’s commitment to “stopping the scourge that fentanyl has unleashed on our nation,” as Boebert’s press release describes it. If passed, this legislation would funnel resources from Homeland Security to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the name of helping “our brave men and women” of Border Patrol to fight fentanyl on “the front lines” of the latest drug war.
Where have we heard this before?
Let’s hope other, right-minded lawmakers—Republicans, Democrats and otherwise—are prepared to publicly denounce the language and positioning of this legislation for what it is.
The trouble with tossing the drug into a category with nukes and chemical weapons comes down to three issues: (1) Fentanyl is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication that provides much-needed relief to patients suffering excruciating pain; (2) funds directed to the Border Patrol could be put to better use in numerous ways to battle addiction and the fallout of the fentanyl crisis; and (3) people who use the drug—often unintentionally—are at risk of being demonized at a time when progress in reducing stigma finally seems at hand.
Boebert has rallied a level of support, albeit partisan, behind the Fentanyl Is a WMD Act. Republican Reps. Mary Miller (Ill.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), Bill Posey (Fla.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Clay Higgins (La.), Barry Moore (Ala.) and Troy Nehls (Texas) have co-sponsored the bill. Certain subsets of the public will surely get behind both the letter of the law and the spirit of Boebert’s motivations.
So let’s hope other, right-minded lawmakers—Republicans, Democrats and otherwise—are prepared to publicly denounce the language and positioning of this legislation for what it is. This WMD controversy may appear on the surface to be more complex and less consequential than others this country has encountered in the past, but the old adage holding to account good men for doing nothing rings just as true here and now as it did then.