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The country is currently battling the most devastating drug epidemic in history. After drug overdoses killed a record-breaking 72,300 Americans in 2017, President Donald Trump and the federal government declared a “national health emergency” to combat opioid and drug abuse.

While Ford County does not have the rate of drug abuse that many other areas have, we face an increasing threat due in large part to deadly drugs that are smuggled into the country.

Prescription drugs were a main culprit in the drug crisis at one time, but in recent years, black-market drugs smuggled into the country have fueled the epidemic. While prescription drug overdoses have remained flat, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that deaths from the synthetic opioid fentanyl have increased by 520 percent. The drug has killed more Americans than the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined. In Illinois, deaths from fentanyl have skyrocketed by 834 percent.

Border officials report that record-breaking amounts of drugs are being smuggled into the U.S. by Mexican drug cartels and Chinese drug smugglers. They seized as much fentanyl in the first half of 2019 as they did in all of 2018, which was enough to kill the entire U.S. population. The cartels are smuggling more fentanyl because it is more potent, addictive and easier-to-produce than other drugs, and their goal is to use the drug to dramatically expand their trafficking empires in the U.S.

While law enforcement officials stop some drugs at the border, record amounts are getting through and ending up in communities across the country. Just last year, Nebraska state troopers seized 118 pounds of fentanyl — enough to kill 26 million people. In August, federal officials arrested 35 people in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas to bust an illegal fentanyl distribution ring. A few weeks ago, enough fentanyl was seized in California to kill the entire populations of 23 states.

Even rural communities like ours in Ford County are at risk from these deadly smuggled drugs. Meth has been a problem in rural Illinois for years, but reports suggest it’s “making a comeback” because of smuggling from Mexico.

Even worse, DEA officials say the cartels are putting fentanyl in drugs like meth to hook a new population of addicts. The already serious meth problem could get even worse because of fentanyl.

The victims of this crisis are not just obvious drug abusers and can be neighbors and friends in our community. As prescription opioids have been scaled back to combat the opioid crisis, some pain sufferers have considered going to the black market to get the drugs they say they need. That leaves them at risk of inadvertently consuming fentanyl through counterfeit pills mass-produced by the cartels to addict pain patients and casual drug users. Law enforcement has seized thousands of these counterfeit pills all over the U.S.

To combat the growing drug-abuse problem nationally, we must be honest about the threat of drug abuse everywhere, even in our rural community. What was once a distant, far-away epidemic in other areas is now a growing crisis that has an impact throughout the country.

Even though Ford County is more than 2,000 miles away from our southern border where most of these dangerous drugs are entering the country, the threat to our community is real and growing.