Counterfeit Drugs Jeopardize Ohio's Safety, Security, and Economy

Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on December 8, 2023.

Ohio is facing numerous crises at home and abroad, including an unsecure U.S. border, an epidemic of fentanyl overdoses, economic instability, and growing national security threats from China. As someone who has had been fortunate enough to serve as a diplomat, Ohio mayor, and in various other roles across the federal and state governments, I have had the unique vantage point to see how these different problems can sometimes tie together.

That is why, during the third Republican presidential debate, in Miami on Nov. 8, I was so pleased to see the candidates smartly focus on how the issue of counterfeit drugs ties all four of these issues together.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told a heartbreaking but all too common story about a father whose son passed away from a fentanyl overdose. The victim “wasn’t a drug addict,” but just an ordinary guy “taking some pill that happened to be laced with fentanyl.” Ohioan Vivek Ramaswamy rightly pointed out that these types of deaths from fentanyl-laced counterfeit drugs should not be called an overdose. He said that “if you put that fentanyl in a Big Mac, we would not call that an overdose” — we would call it “closer to bioterrorism.”

Ohioans are witnessing the devastating consequences of this bioterrorism from fake counterfeit drugs nearly every day.

In August, an Arizona man was sentenced to more than 20 years in a federal prison for conspiracy and trafficking after he mailed counterfeit fentanyl pills hidden inside a vacuum cleaner to a Garfield Heights address. And last year, Ohio State University warned students to be wary of fake Adderall pills after two students died from a counterfeit form of this medication.

In 2022, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than a quarter-million counterfeit pills containing fentanyl just in Ohio, Michigan and Northern Kentucky alone, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. That was part of a 150% increase in fake pill seizures nationally.

The criminal groups peddling counterfeit drugs are not only killing our citizens. They are also taking jobs and economic growth from Ohio’s manufacturing engine.

According to recent data, Ohio manufacturing is growing at a slower rate than much of the rest of the country. This is likely due in part to Ohio’s 45 biopharmaceutical manufacturing plants --which support 122,841 jobs in the state, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America -- not being utilized to their full potential as America continues to see counterfeit drugs coming in from countries like China and Mexico. This directly undermines America’s national security.

Whoever is the next president in 2025 — whether it is President Joe Biden or one of the GOP candidates vying to replace him — will have to confront countless complex problems facing our country at the same time. They would be smart to focus on solutions that can make a positive impact on multiple fronts.

Securing the border to prevent the importation of fentanyl certainly presents one remedy; however, it is only one dimension of the problem. Cracking down on counterfeit drugs with greater enforcement, on the other hand, is low-hanging fruit that is supported by both sides of the political aisle. It can be done administratively as easily as it could through the legislative branch, and it represents a foolproof way to increase public safety and economic and national security.

Ohio has needed action on this issue for far too long. For the sake of our state’s families and future, here’s hoping that it comes in short order.