The Persistent Threat Of The Opioid Crisis To Homeland Security

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The Department of Homeland Security Faces a Major Challenge in the Opioid CrisisIn October 2002, Chechen terrorists took about 850 people hostage in a Moscow theater, according to the CIA’s former Acting Director Michael J. Morell in, “The Opioid Crisis Becomes a National Security Threat,” in The Cipher Brief.

A three-day standoff ensued between the terrorists and Russian authorities, during which several hostages were killed. The unusual layout of the theater, coupled with the level of weaponry and explosives the Chechen terrorists were believed to have in their possession, made a traditional police raid impossible.

Russian authorities opted to fill the building with an incapacitating agent, a gas that ended up killing all the terrorists and about 130 of the hostages as well. The Russians are believed to have used carfentanil, a synthetic opioid, although they have never confirmed that information.

Opioids, especially the extremely potent synthetic variety manufactured mostly in China, can now be used as chemical agents in terrorist attacks. And the criminal organizations that engage in the opioid trade continue to threaten national security by putting Americans at risk for addiction and overdoses.

Graduates of safety, security, and emergency management programs who plan to enter homeland security-related fields can benefit from understanding opioid crisis solutions intended to reduce opioid dependency and make America safer.

The Impact of Opioids

The rising popularity of opioids, both as prescription painkillers and in the illegal drug trade, affects state and federal resources ranging from law enforcement equipment and officers to medical personnel.

“Opioid-related emergencies often require the diversion of limited human and capital resources,” explains Olusegun Owotomo, MD, in his 2017 paper, “Opioid Epidemic and Homeland Security: An Integrative Framework of Intricacies and Proposed Solutions,” for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

“Every opioid-related emergency requires the utilization of emergency response personnel, healthcare professionals, and law enforcement,” he says. “With the rising prevalence of opioid overdoses and the increasing need for opioid addiction treatment (emergency room and inpatient), the impact of the opioid epidemic on the healthcare system and society cannot be overemphasized.”

Both the rising demand and rising supply of opioids, he maintains, effectively target more susceptible individuals over time. The increase in opioid addiction results in more overdoses, more emergency room visits, a rise in addiction treatment center admissions, higher rates of HIV and hepatitis, an increasing number of violent incidents, and social consequences including the dissolution of families.

These consequences create an ever-broadening burden on the healthcare system, law enforcement, and public health, which in turn places an enormous drain on Homeland Security resources.

Controlling the Turmoil

The stage is set for the opioid issue to continue growing out of control. Extremely deadly synthetic opioids such as carfentanil and fentanyl are being mass produced in other countries, shipped to (or smuggled into) the U.S., and cut into heroin or other illegal drugs.

“Three factors are driving the opioid aspect of this crisis in particular,” President Donald Trump writes in his “Memorandum of October 26, 2017” to his cabinet heads (Federal Register Vol. 82, No. 209). “First… there has been a dramatic rise in opioid medication prescriptions. Second, heroin from Mexico has flooded the country.

“Third, the illicit manufacture and illegal importation of fentanyl – an extremely deadly synthetic opioid – and its analogs and related compounds have proliferated. Fentanyl is currently manufactured almost exclusively in China, and it is either shipped in the United States or smuggled across the southern border by drug traffickers. Between 2013 and 2016, the amount of fentanyl seized by Customs and Border Protection at the border increased more than 200 times over.”

Drug smuggling is particularly problematic for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because its agents are concentrated at borders and ports of entry.

Resources devoted to incoming opioids would not be available to address other dangerous border activities, such as arms smuggling or terrorist infiltrations. And to make matters even more complicated, border agents have no way of knowing which synthetic opioid shipments are being smuggled for the drug trade and which might be used as chemical weapons by terrorists.

Technological advances, however, could reduce Homeland Security’s workload. As part of an existing postal service security system, electronic data on every package coming into the U.S. could be sent to DHS ahead of time, a strategy that would likely face legal hurdles to implementation.

“This is a systemic homeland security issue as it is about our vulnerable borders and minimizing the potential that they are taken advantage of by terrorists or drug traders,” international affairs expert Juliette Kayyem says in, “Why the Opioid Crisis is an Issue of Homeland Security” on

“According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 340 million packages entered our country last year from foreign posts without the electronic data and screening needed by agencies to assess and monitor toxic, illegal drugs entering the country. By addressing one of the pathways that allows these drugs to enter our country…, we can raise the bar for our own national security standards.”

Advancements such as the restructuring of our global postal system could help Homeland Security effectively accomplish its mission. And with fresh minds come fresh ideas. The men and women now studying for an online emergency management degree could be the Homeland Security leaders of tomorrow. The war against the opioid trade and opioid addiction epidemic will be theirs to fight.

Eastern Kentucky University’s Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management Program (MSSSEM)

The opioid crisis falls under the purview of safety, security, and emergency management. Students with MSSSEM degrees could face this growing threat, whether they work for a local school board or the DHS itself.

EKU offers courses in homeland security, emergency planning and response, security management, industrial safety, crisis response, fire safety, and intelligence analysis to students pursuing one of our three MSSSEM concentrations: Occupational safety, emergency management, and homeland security.

Our fully accredited online emergency management degree program prepares students to sit for their Associate Safety and Health Manager (ASHM) certification and the Certified Safety and Health Manager (CSHM) exam. To learn more about EKU’s MSSSEM program, visit the program webpage today.


The Opioid Crisis Becomes a National Security Threat – The Cipher Brief

Opioid Epidemic and Homeland Security – National Academies

Memorandum of October 26, 2017 –

Why the Opioid Crisis is an Issue of Homeland Security – Belfer Center

Recommended Reading:

Are You Ready for an Emergency Management Career?

Introduction to Homeland Security Through the Eyes of a High School Student