Rise in fentanyl deaths justifies use of military force against Mexican drug cartels, says California Sheriff

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes is counting on recently introduced federal legislation to help prevent narcotics from flowing into OC.

In a March 6 letter he sent to the authors of legislation that would authorize the use of military force against Mexican drug cartels, Barnes said the cartels are “flooding American communities with the deadly drug fentanyl” and taking lives on “both sides of our southern border.”

“It is time for the federal government to take meaningful action against these hostile drug trafficking organizations,” Barnes said in the letter to Republican Reps. Mike Waltz of Florida and Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

Introduced in January, the legislation would authorize the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance into the United States or carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere.”

The use of “military force” refers to the use of resources, like cyber, drones and intelligence, not sending troops into another country, according to the sponsors. And military force would be used only against organizations and people outside of the U.S.

“It’s the ability to use resources that will better protect us and disrupt the drug trafficking enterprise of the cartels, not necessarily using tanks, bombs and missiles,” Barnes said.

Orange County has experienced a surge of fentanyl-related deaths in the past several years. In 2016, the total number of fentanyl-related deaths was just over 30, but that number spiked to more than 600 by 2021, according to the California Department of Public Heath. Statewide, deaths increased more than 2,000% in the last five years, from 239 in 2016 to nearly 6,000 in 2021.

Barnes pointed to these deaths as “one of the biggest illustrations of the drug cartels’ impact on America’s safety.”

Barnes said the OC Sheriff’s Department already has a relationship with various federal entities — including the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and the National Guard, to name a few — to exchange information.

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