Opioid Epidemic and Money Laundering

opioid epidemicIt has been several years now since the federal government, and state governments alike, began making it harder to acquire prescription painkillers—opioid narcotics such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Percocet (oxycodone / paracetamol). Drugs of that type are not only addictive, they can be downright deadly, i.e. 78 overdose deaths in America every day related to either prescription opioids or heroin. While it remains a fact that it is still quite easy for some opioid addicts to acquire painkillers (in some cases even after they experience an overdose), the latest opioid scourge sweeping across the nation is heroin. Years of over prescribing opioid painkillers caused Americans to become over reliant on this class of drugs when it comes to pain. This led to an unprecedented rate of opioid addiction, and the opening of a Pandora’s box. When it became more difficult to get such drugs from one’s doctor, faced with certain withdrawal symptoms, many opioid addicts turned to the streets for their drugs.

Prescription Opioids to Heroin

Heroin is cheaper than a tablet of oxycodone on the street, and it is typically stronger or easier to come by. Most of today’s heroin users began by using prescription opioids and then pivoted to heroin. Seeing dollar signs, Mexican drug cartels decided to take advantage of the billion dollar illicit opioid market in America. It is fair to say that cartels trafficking and selling illegal drugs north of the border is nothing new—an exchange that has been happening for nearly half a century. However, never in our history has there been such a high demand for a mind altering substance that can snatch one’s life in the blink of an eye. And if heroin wasn’t bad enough, Mexican cartels are also buying ingredients to synthesize even more powerful opioids, such as fentanyl. In recent years there has been a number of overdose deaths involving an addict who thought they were using heroin, but were actually using fentanyl. Verily, the American opioid epidemic has become a “gold rush” for Mexican drug cartels. That being said, where does all the money go and how does it get to its final destination? It turns out that the answer to that could be a way to combat the crisis we face.

American “Laundry”

A new report conducted by the nonprofit group the Fair Share Education Fund, calls upon legislators to stop allowing the use of anonymous shell companies, The Hill reports. In fact, the United States is among the countries where it is easy for criminals to set up anonymous shell companies to launder their money. Changing the laws that allow for this would make it much harder for drug traffickers to see a return. The effect could have real impact on the opioid epidemic in America.
We should use every tool at our disposal to tackle the opioid crisis, and going after the money is just such a critical tool,” says the Fair Share Education Fund.
The ease in which criminals are able to set up anonymous shell companies is one of the reasons that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) estimates that federal authorities only confiscate 1.5 percent of the money Americans spend on illicit drugs every year, according to the article. Because money can be laundered so easily, it is difficult for law enforcement officials to make cases against drug traffickers.
Authorities may have good reason to suspect someone of being involved in criminal activity,” said the group. “However, without the basic information necessary to show that a suspect is directly linked to a shell company used to facilitate illegal activity, they are unable to make their case, or run out of the time and resources needed to do so.”

Treating the Opioid Addict

Reducing access to opioid drugs, including heroin, is one important step. But treating the addict is also paramount. At PACE Recovery Center opiate and heroin addiction treatment options include psychosocial approaches, pharmacological treatment, therapeutic groups, 12-Step recovery, as well as individual and experiential therapy. Our addiction treatment staff also lead psychoeducational groups that cover the disease model of addiction, emotional management tools, relapse prevention techniques, boundaries and healthy relationships, and general life skills that help smooth the transition of clients from active addiction into life.

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