FBI Director James Comey addressed the opioid epidemic plaguing the U.S. Wednesday, blaming Mexican cartels for the influx of heroin but noting the solution will only come through addressing domestic demand.
Comey joined with Drug Enforcement Administration acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg and officials from Virginia at Glen Allen High School for a summit on rampant opioid abuse across the country. Comey said he hopes greater community engagement can help spread awareness and slowly turn the tide on addiction. The FBI director focused much of his comments on Mexico and cartels’ continued efforts to flood American streets with extremely potent heroin, reports NBC 12.
While the officials vowed to continue tough enforcement on drug trafficking, Comey stressed the need to address domestic demand and the prevalence of opioid dependence within U.S. society.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Comey said Wednesday afternoon, according to NBC 12. “We will do our part and we will try to lock up as many drug dealers as we can and alert people to the dangers, but the problem is not going to be solved unless it is done is a holistic way.”
Addiction experts blame much of the explosion of heroin use since 2010 on the over-prescribing of pain medications for more than a decade. Addicts may begin with a dependence on opioid pills before transitioning to heroin after building up a tolerance that makes pills too expensive. Officials with the DEA say four out of five heroin addicts started with painkillers.
“Sometimes we use words like ‘epidemic’ or ‘unprecedented’ or ‘historic’ in ways that are not really accurate,” Rosenberg said, according to Fox News. “This is unprecedented. This is an epidemic.”
In addition to the threat from Mexican cartels, drug traffickers are increasingly ordering shipments of fentanyl, a potent opiate based painkiller, from China at a fraction of the cost of heroin. While a kilogram of heroin from a Mexican cartel will cost a domestic supplier roughly $64,000, they can order a kilogram of fentanyl through the mail from China for only $2,000.
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.