Time to seriously address the fentanyl crisis

“He was slumped over his bed when I opened the door … I screamed. Told my wife to call 911.”

This is part of the heartbreaking story of a Des Moines, Iowa, father whose son had unknowingly taken a Percocet laced with fentanyl and was killed as a result. The loss his family suffered is sadly all too common in communities across the country. Last year alone, fentanyl was responsible for 83% of all opioid-related overdoses in Iowa. And now, the lethal drug has taken an unrecognizable form—disguised as candy or prescription drugs. As one man put it, people are being “deceived to death.”

When a criminal distributes fentanyl to an unknowing recipient, they turn from drug dealer to murderer—and they should be treated as such. These criminals need to face the full consequences of their actions, and to make sure they do, I’m fighting to make the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death punishable by federal felony murder charges. It’s past time the consequence for intentionally inflicting an overdose fits the crime.

With the intersection of Interstate Highways 35 and I-80, Iowa has seen a record amount of fentanyl come into our state through a porous southern border. Cracking down on cartel activity and its ability to smuggle drugs across the open border would combat the primary source of fentanyl flooding into our communities.

We can do so by targeting cartel spotters, individuals who monitor Border Patrol activity to help cartels evade law enforcement while trafficking fentanyl and other drugs, like methamphetamine. Without spotters, cartels are more likely to be apprehended by Border Patrol, allowing law enforcement to seize fentanyl before it makes its way into the United States. I say we stop the spotters and anyone who aids cartel activity by increasing fines and prison time for their actions.

The fentanyl epidemic is exploding across our country and right here in Iowa. It’s a deliberate effort by criminals, cartels, and drug traffickers to push deadly drugs into our communities. Iowans have seen the devastating effects of the fentanyl crisis. It’s something I discussed on almost all of my 99-county tour stops this year, from concerned parents to local law enforcement officers. We have to get serious about addressing this epidemic. Secure the border, hold the ruthless cartels and anyone who helps them accountable, and punish the deadly distributors.

Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak, Iowa, and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate. She is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.