All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

Opioid Crisis: AG Hunter's proposed plan could invite organized crime into state

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
AG Mike Hunter wants to use RICO, an anti-mafia act, against opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.
Fertile Ground Compost Service
Help support Red Dirt Report

NORMAN, Okla.-- What is it about politicians, in particular, Republicans, that compel them to always look for someone to punish?  The very real and very tragic opioid crisis in this country has finally caught the attention it deserves from state leaders, but the solutions being advanced are anything but. 

Just look at the latest proposed course of action by AG Mike Hunter: treat opioid manufacturers like the Mafia by employing the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) law.  It’s just more punishment, and rather than solving the problem, it will make the overdose crisis far worse, and the resulting situation will be almost impossible to control.

First of all, merely cracking down on opioid manufacturers will have the immediate effect of clearing the market for illicit heroin, a demand which will be filled by the same Mexican cartels that are currently supplying Oklahoma with a high-grade, lethal form of meth.  Pain sufferers, forced to find some way to get relief, will have no choice but to debase themselves and purchase an illegal substance.  Fentanyl deaths will increase as users unwittingly consume the deadly synthetic.

As direct evidence, states that have already cracked down on opioids have seen increases in heroin deaths.  People in these states have seen their supply of pain medication either cut off or severely curtailed, forcing them to go searching for an alternative, leading them to the black market, and eventually to a certain death.  And these deaths from heroin have tripled since 2010 after the crackdown on opioid use really got underway.  Since 2010, heroin deaths have increased at a faster rate than heroin use, meaning the illicit substance has become far more potent, the effect of a misguided crackdown on painkillers.

The level of irony here is unreal: rather than resulting in anything positive, treating opioid manufacturers like the Mafia will have the effect of inviting real organized crime into the state.  The “string em’ up” attitude is a crowd pleaser, especially in Red states like this one, but it’s not a substitute for a real solution.  This is very important to understand: the Mexican cartels will most assuredly step into the vacuum if opioids are cracked down on.  Fentanyl-related deaths will rise as “opioid refugees” search out an alternative pain medication.  Which points to the central issue, the goal that should be the focus of everyone intent on ending the overdose crisis: the creation of a safe and effective alternative pain medication.

Hunter should look at how the market for meth has transformed in Oklahoma due to the hard work of law enforcement.  Local meth producers are virtually non-existent in the state, yet overdoses continue to rise.  Where is the meth coming from?  Mexican drug cartels, who have moved into our state to supply the demand.  Oklahoma law enforcement indirectly eliminated domestic meth competitors, inviting an element of organized crime into our state that did not exist before.  This was obviously not the intent of local law enforcement, yet the effect was the same.  Which is why it’s important to search out what the unintended, secondary consequences of any action would be. 

Let’s be clear: opioid manufacturers are not organized crime syndicates.  They’ve operated in broad daylight, and everyone has known what has been going on the entire time.  What did everyone think would happen when doctors began, in effect, prescribing heroin to a class of people most susceptible to addiction? 

Mike Hunter seems to genuinely have his heart in the right place.  He appears to want to fix the situation, but he’s going about it all wrong.  Tragically, the path he’s staring down would make the overdose situation in the state far worse.  Cutting off opioid painkillers from people that need them, without having an alternative painkiller ready, will throw gasoline on the fire. 

Instead, 100% of the attention directed at solving the opioid crisis must be focused on creating a non-opioid based painkiller.  If no alternative exists legally for pain sufferers to use, the overdose deaths will continue to skyrocket.  Merely punishing opioid manufacturers would accomplish nothing.

The most promising path toward a non-opioid-based painkiller appears to be through cannabis.  Preliminary research has found that pain sufferers switch to cannabis when given the option.  Additionally, states that legalized medical marijuana saw painkiller abuse drop.

The benefits would be tremendous: a non-addictive, safe painkiller that isn’t a gateway to heroin in the way that prescription opioids are. 

If Mike Hunter could channel his passion for fighting the opioid crisis into summoning the resources necessary to develop a non-opioid based painkiller, the overdose nightmare would end so much sooner.

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About the Author

Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

read more

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

Member of the Oklahoma Press Association
Member of Investigative Reporters & Editors
Member of Diversity Business Association
Member of Uptown 23rd
Rotary Club of Bricktown OKC
Keep it Local OK