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     By Kate Queram


I recently did a deep dive into reading about the Sacklers, the billionaire family behind Purdue Pharma and OxyContin, the notorious (and widely abused) prescription opioid. The book I read was long, meticulously researched, clearly written, and objectively good, but I didn’t enjoy it, mostly because you don’t need to read a book to understand that rich people in power often care only about themselves, their money, and their power. You can just look at the scope of the ongoing addiction crisis, and who is — and isn’t — trying to fix it.

 The Big Takeaway

Scientists generally describe the opioid crisis in three waves: Prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic alternatives like fentanyl. Addiction to the pain-relieving drugs began to surge in the late 1990s, thanks in large part to Purdue Pharma, the family-owned pharmaceutical company that developed and aggressively (and dishonestly) marketed OxyContin. The steadily rising rates of overdose and addiction eventually prompted the company to release an “abuse-deterrent” version of the drug featuring a special coating that was designed to limit patients’ ability to take more than their prescribed doses. 

The coating was effective in preventing some types of new abuse, but it did nothing to address existing addiction, leaving millions of patients accustomed to higher doses unable to get their fix. Desperate to avoid withdrawal symptoms, many of those patients switched to heroin — just as supplies became tainted with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine. By 2020, drugs like fentanyl accounted for more than 82% of opioid-related deaths in the United States.

Fentanyl seized by state authorities in New York in 2016, which is probably also Joe Biden’s fault. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Fentanyl seized by state authorities in New York in 2016, which is probably also Joe Biden’s fault.
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The fentanyl supply chain is not a mystery. The precursor chemicals are concocted in illicit labs in China, then processed and manufactured into synthetic opioids by drug cartels, who smuggle them into the United States through Mexico. The details of that process have not changed since congressional lawmakers first learned of it in 2017 — but Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee were still happy to blame it on Joe Biden during a hearing on Wednesday, per reporting from our national bureau in D.C.

As is usually the case, GOP lawmakers walked a twisty road to lay responsibility at Biden’s doorstep, saying that the administration’s “open border” policy had allowed fentanyl-toting migrants to swarm the country, saturating the illicit drug market with synthetic opioids.

"It is open. The border is dangerous," said U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). "Drugs pour across — international terrorists, criminal gang members, people from all over the world."

It’s not a new argument — Republicans previously deployed it in campaign ads ahead of the midterm elections last November. It’s also not true. A week before the hearing, illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border declined, reaching their lowest levels since February 2021. The Department of Homeland Security attributed that drop to expanded enforcement measures announced by the Biden administration in early January. Regardless of the cause, the numbers are unlikely to affect the flow of fentanyl, which, like most illegal drugs, is usually seized at legal ports of entry from experienced drug traffickers — not migrants.

Perhaps the actual crisis is the fact that so many people feel they have no option but to flee their countries? (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Perhaps the actual crisis is the fact that so many people feel they have no option but to flee their countries?
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

But Republicans had convened this hearing to discuss the drug crisis at the border, and by god, they were going to discuss the drug crisis at the border, even if there was no actual drug crisis at the border to discuss. The posturing is part of the GOP’s long-term strategy to weaponize immigration, a plan that includes endless legislative hearings and an ongoing attempt to impeach U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

Lawmakers attempted to bolster their argument Wednesday with testimony from alleged experts, like Mark Dannels, an Arizona sheriff with ties to an anti-government extremist organization who said the border is “the largest crime scene in the country.” A county judge from El Paso then contradicted that account in his own testimony, telling lawmakers that “there is no open border” and cautioning that repeating false and harmful anti-immigration narratives perpetuates violence in border communities.

“There is no invasion, nor are there hordes of undocumented immigrants committing crimes against citizens or causing havoc in our community,” Ricardo Samaniego said.

But that went against the playbook, and U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden wasn’t having it.

“Migrants are absolutely invading this country,” the Texas Republican insisted.

To be fair, they have some experience with invasions. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

To be fair, they have some experience with invasions.
(Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

A judge in Wisconsin believes the responsibility for overdose deaths lies elsewhere: With the dealers who supply the fatal hit. 

“As a criminal justice system, we need to encourage people to do the right thing,” Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow said during a 2020 trial for a 27-year-old eventually convicted of supplying a lethal dose of fentanyl-laced heroin. “To take responsibility when they make choices that result in the death of individuals, or otherwise are engaged in criminal activity, and to cooperate with further investigations.”

It’s an interesting legal doctrine that’s particularly fascinating now that Dorow’s son Michael may have been involved in a college student’s fatal overdose, per the Wisconsin Examiner. The judge’s son was one of the last people seen with 18-year-old Cade Reddington, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student, before he died of fentanyl poisoning in 2021. Reddington’s family believe he overdosed on a percocet pill laced with fentanyl, similar to the drugs Michael Dorow was rumored to be peddling to students around that time, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Michael Dorow has retained an attorney and is not cooperating with investigators, and police said they did not receive a response to a letter asking his mother to refer him for questioning, according to the Journal Sentinel. He has not been charged with a crime.

Rules for thee, not for me. (Photo by Getty Images)

Rules for thee, not for me.
(Photo by Getty Images)

This is legal, but it’s incredibly awkward given the state Supreme Court candidate’s very public positions on drug-related investigations. In addition to waxing poetic about the importance of cooperating with law enforcement, Dorow has also opined that people who are convicted of drug-induced homicide deserve stiff sentences that reflect their lack of care for fellow members of the community.

“Probation would unduly depreciate the seriousness of this offense,” she told a street-level heroin dealer at a 2022 sentencing hearing. “It would send a very wrong message to you and anyone else in our community who would deal drugs willingly, knowingly, with the very real potential that any time you do that someone could die as a result. This is a known risk that you took [with] your, in my estimation, complete and utter disregard for the lives of other individuals.”

Dorow’s campaign did not respond to specific questions about her experience overseeing this type of case — but it did provide a blanket statement that skirts the question entirely.

“The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story this morning that mentions my son and another young man, who died tragically,” Dorow said in the statement. “My heart aches for his parents. I am very sorry for their loss, and I pray that they somehow find comfort and peace. Every day at work, I see firsthand the devastating effects that illegal drugs have on our community.

“I love my current role as judge, and I’d be honored to be called justice, but the most important title to me will always be mom,” she continued. “Like every mother, I love my children more than anything in this world. I am shocked that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and some of my opponents think it’s OK to use my son for their own political ends.”

Not sure how that’s political, but OK: Cameron takes his fentanyl fighting message to Northern Kentucky, other stops planned(Kentucky) Former Russell hospital will become treatment center for mental health, addiction recoveryMore than 200 people take their fight against Oregon’s addiction crisis to the statehouse(South Dakota) Legislative roundup: Taxes and tribes, feedlots and lithium(Wisconsin) Opioid settlement funds come through as overdose numbers keep climbing


  State of Our Democracy

House Republicans continued to make good use of their legislative majority Thursday by calling for a vote on a resolution “denouncing the horrors of socialism.” (No, really, that’s what it says.) The resolution, introduced by Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), formally rejects the “socialist ideology,” a system that “necessitates a concentration of power that has time and time again collapsed into communist regimes, totalitarian rule, and brutal dictatorships.” 

Cited as examples: China, Cuba, North Korea and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, all of which are better described as communist. (Notably absent from an accompanying list of dictators: Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler, whose party had the word “socialist” right there in the name.)

READ A BOOK (JK they can’t because they banned them all) (Photo by Getty Images)

READ A BOOK (JK they can’t because they banned them all)
(Photo by Getty Images)

Why was this necessary? I don’t know. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said it “speaks to the people who have known all too well the atrocities of socialism,” which indicates to me that maybe Republicans also don’t know. And Democrats definitely don’t know. Some of them said as much, blasting Republicans for wasting time on a “political stunt,” and for rejecting debate on a proposed amendment to clarify that Social Security and Medicare are not socialist programs. (Specific amendments are important when you’re dealing with meaningless resolutions, because it’s important to be specific when you’re already wasting everyone’s time.) 

But most of those Democrats voted for it anyway, giving Republicans a bipartisan win that will undoubtedly come back to haunt them whenever they embrace “socialist” policies like “not outlawing abortion” or “letting Social Security survive a little bit longer.” On the plus side, at least capitalism finally got the formal recognition it deserves. (I am dumber for having written all of this.)

I have no more words: Two LGBTQ-specific bills move forward in Arkansas LegislatureIs Hawaii government effective? It’s hard to tell‘A line has been crossed’: Idaho Supreme Court says judges, staff under attack(Maine) Amid concerns about inclusion, bill introduced to raise meager legislator payNorth Carolina bill requiring schools to out transgender students to parents draws fire(Pennsylvania) Special elections in Allegheny County could determine path forward for deadlocked General Assembly

  Caught Our Eye

A welcome sight after the last section. (Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

A welcome sight after the last section.
(Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

A proposed bill in New Hampshire would permit college students under the age of 21 to sip wine or beer — as long as it’s for school, according to this story from the New Hampshire Bulletin. The legislation, sponsored by a Republican state senator, aims to eliminate a bureaucratic headache for underage college students studying wine or beer, who are currently excluded from certain classes until they turn 21. If approved, the bill would permit qualifying students to sip, but not swallow, the beverages. Similar policies are already on the books in a dozen states, from California to South Carolina.

   From The Newsrooms

One Last Thing

Tom Brady announced Wednesday that he will finally (probably) actually retire from the NFL, a year after retiring and then unretiring 40 days later. That debacle was rumored to be a factor in Brady’s divorce from supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who used her best human-resources language to congratulate her ex-husband for finally (probably) retiring for real.

“Wishing you only wonderful things in this new chapter of your life," Bündchen commented on Brady’s Instagram post, along with a prayer-hands emoji.

Gisele has things to do! (via Tenor)

Gisele has things to do!
(via Tenor)


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