Mexico's threat to ban medical fentanyl is painfully misguided

Daniel Tahar - Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 4.0


Mexico's threat to ban medical fentanyl is painfully misguided

26 June 2023
André Gomes
Talking Drugs

Mexico’s president has been the first North American leader to call for the outright ban of the medical use of fentanyl, as relationships between his country and its northern neighbour sour through the handling of the overdose crisis.

The traffic of fentanyl from Mexico across to the US has strained relationships between both countries: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has stated in the past that his government is doing more to control the drug than their northern neighbours, and that the American overdose crisis is more related to the decay of family and moral values than about the drugs.

Fentanyl in North America is the iron law of prohibition in action

While concerns with drug deaths involving fentanyl are important to highlight, banning their use from medical contexts will do nothing to stem deaths. This is primarily because fentanyl is adulterating the heroin (and increasingly other substances’) supply. As a potent substance, small quantities of it can be mixed into -or entirely replace – many drugs to potentiate their effects. However, this can have deadly effects as consumers are not aware that this is going on unless they test their drugs. Since its introduction into the North American heroin and benzodiazepine drug supply (which happened as early as 2014), fentanyl has come to dominate drug markets.

Fentanyl’s infiltration of the North American market is an example of the iron law of prohibition in action. Decades of aggressive marketing of opioid medication like OxyContin to North American patients, as well as lax regulation on prescribing, created a massive demand for this class of drugs. After the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention restricted the prescription of opioids in 2016, cracking down on pill mills and excessive prescribing, the disappearance of a safe supply of this drug alongside massive demand created the perfect conditions for a potent, easily imported and manufactured substitute to appear.