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How should Virginia deal with the fentanyl crisis?

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In August 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration and law enforcement partners seized brightly colored rainbow fentanyl pills in 18 states.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia. State government continues to try new strategies to address the fentanyl crisis.

100 National Guard troops from Virginia are now at the Texas-Mexico border as part of an ongoing effort to do something about the fentanyl crisis. Critics say it’s a political stunt that will divert limited resources and militarize immigration enforcement. Supporters say border security will send a strong message about the importance of the issue.

Here's Mahmut Cengiz at George Mason University.

"I don't think that sending troops to the southern border will really make a huge impact," Cengiz says. "I think it will just increase the prices of the fentanyl because the more you put pressure on trafficking, the more you can see the increasing of the prices of fentanyl."

Earlier this month, a new law went into effect that allows prosecutors to go after fentanyl as a weapon of terrorism. Kathy Hosig at Virginia Tech says people often end up unknowingly consuming fentanyl.

"I think if we can put really big teeth, and that maybe what they’re trying to do, big teeth, behind prosecuting people who knowingly expose people to fentanyl or prey on people who are addicted to opioids and fentanyl," Hosig says. "That, to me I believe, could be part of an effective strategy package."

One of the budget amendments caught up in the ongoing impasse would set aside $15 million for opioid abatement initiatives including a campaign to reduce youth fentanyl poisoning.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.