More Bureaucracy Won’t Fix Fentanyl Crisis
We’ve all seen the ads. We watch happy middle-aged people fly kites and walk their dogs while a voiceover tells us how a certain Wonderdrug changed their lives. Then we get to the part — sometimes longer than the positive part — where we hear all the warnings. One of them is, “Don’t take Wonderdrug if you are allergic to Wonderdrug.”
Every time I see these ads, I wonder which federal law requires such silliness. The scary thing is that, even as an attorney, it would take me hours of painstaking research to find the answer to that question. We Americans are a people who are positively mired in well-intentioned laws that do nothing positive. They only create more noise, paper, and taxes.
Another Bill, Another Bureaucracy
Last week, a group of Congress members introduced a new bill that would add to the mountains of such laws. U.S. Representatives David Trone (D-MD), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and Mary Sattler Peltola (D-AK), hope that “Bruce’s Law” will raise public awareness of the dangers of synthetic opioids.
The bill sets up an inter-agency working group to review federal efforts at reducing overdoses and recommend new education programs. If you need a reminder of how massive our federal government has become, a quick glance at the list of working group members provides it:
- Office of National Drug Control Policy
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Administration for Children and Families
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Department of Justice
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Department of State
- Department of Education
- “and other Federal agencies (as determined by the Secretary)”
Can you picture it? If this bill becomes law, each one of these departments and agencies will have a new program to manage. Each will need to task some of its bureaucrats with attending these massive meetings and doing the work of the new working group. They will probably need new support staff to do the extra paperwork, scheduling, and reporting. Each of these new hires will require new computers, office space, coffee, and an excellent benefits package.
Of course, all of this will cost massive amounts of taxpayer money, just to determine how to spend the new funding (also taxpayer money) allocated to “Drug-Free Communities Coalitions” under the bill.
And what is it all for? It’s to teach people the dangers of using illegal drugs that are laced with fentanyl. That’s right. By its own definition, the bill is concerned with warning people about drugs that are illegally bought or sold in the first place.
This is rather like spending taxpayer dollars on a public awareness campaign to warn people that they might get shot if they break into someone’s home in the middle of the night.
And someday, someone like me will be faced with yet another ad to watch, form to sign, or billboard to read. She will wonder why all this is necessary, and which federal law, rule, or regulation requires it. Some agency will be spending our money for years to come, to make sure we know that we shouldn’t consume illegal drugs, because they just might contain harmful substances.
Government Isn’t the Only Game in Town
Clearly, this bill is based on good intentions. The opioid crisis is real, and it is heartbreaking. The trouble is, not every form of societal brokenness can be fixed by new layers of bureaucracy and more taxpayer dollars to pay for them.
The Founders knew this. That’s why they carefully prescribed and limited the powers of the federal government. I’ve searched my pocket Constitution, but I don’t find a single clause giving Congress power to create or pay for public awareness campaigns.
The good news is that the federal government isn’t the only game in town.
Society consists of many other institutions that are well-equipped to achieve the goals of Bruce’s Law. There are private organizations formed by families and friends of those who have suffered from addiction. There are churches that offer support for them. There are businesses and industries — with ready access to the media — looking for good causes to support through charitable donations. There are school boards who can direct local schools to teach their kids how dangerous these drugs are. And yes, there are parents (let’s not forget about the power of parents!) to teach these things to their own kids in their own homes.
Congress should let these other societal institutions do their good works, and stick to doing the work that Congress is actually empowered to do.
Rita Peters is a constitutional attorney, the author of Restoring America’s Soul: Advancing Timeless Conservative Principles in a Wayward Culture and co-host of the weekly radio program, “Crossroads: Where Faith and Culture Meet.”