Three weeks from the midterm elections, crime remains a major concern for voters. In the swing state of Pennsylvania, candidates are talking a lot about the nationwide fentanyl epidemic in the context of the severity of crime.
According to data reported by the Pennsylvania Office of Drug Surveillance and Misuse Prevention, 78% of all drug overdose deaths in the state in 2021 were related to fentanyl. CDC data shows that synthetic opioid-related deaths, primarily from fentanyl, have risen dramatically across the country and the drug has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans since 2015.
“I think it’s a huge problem, I don’t know who can fix it, it’s just very sad,” said Pennsylvania voter Haresh Assumel.
A Fox News poll shows voters are split on which party would be best at tackling opioid addiction.
Pollster and Floyd Institute for Public Policy Center for Opinion Research Director at Franklin & Marshall College Berwood Yost said substance abuse is unlikely to have a determining role in races this year but he thinks talking about it potentially gives the candidate a way to connect to an important issue that voters care about.
“Some of the more rural communities in southwestern Pennsylvania have been hit very hard by this outbreak, that’s certainly important to many citizens,” Yost said.
It’s a draw in the high-level race for Seat of the United States Senate in Pennsylvania between famed Republican talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman. Dr. Oz has brought up the fentanyl epidemic at nearly every campaign event lately.
“We have a weak justice system, which cannot deal with fentanyl. My opponent has called for the decriminalization of all these opioid drugs and wants to have heroin injection sites. What is it about?” Dr. Oz told voters at a campaign event with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania on Monday.
Oz often attacks Fetterman for a soft approach on crime, and said last week that more drug use can mean more violence and crime.
Fetterman denies the soft-on-crime allegations. When it comes to fentanyl, his campaign says Fetterman knows we need comprehensive solutions to address this crisis.
“Unlike Dr. Oz, who is once again trying to distract from having a fortune invested in these pharmaceutical companies, John actually understands the PA opioid epidemic because he tackled to this scourge as Mayor of Braddock which is why John knows we need comprehensive solutions to address this crisis including harm reduction strategies, investment in treatment, cracking down on trafficking drugs, holding big pharma accountable, and partnering with law enforcement to keep our communities safe,” Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello said in a statement. “One of the reasons John strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana is that law enforcement resources should be focused on fighting serious crimes that will make Pennsylvania safer.”
In the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race between Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Senator Doug Mastriano, the fight against fentanyl has been a key factor in the campaign trail.
Attorney General Shapiro said fentanyl is a growing crisis in Pennsylvania communities. Shapiro said about a year ago he released a report highlighting the critical need to get the fentanyl crisis under control.
“In my first three and a half years, four years in office, we seized 3.2 million doses of heroin. In the last year alone, we seized 4 billion doses of fentanyl, and now we see more and more fentanyl pills being sold in the market,” Shapiro said.
For years, Pennsylvania has had one of the highest drug overdose rates in the country. Shapiro said the Commonwealth was losing 15 residents a day to overdoses, which are now almost exclusively fentanyl deaths.
“In addition to a robust police response that we have provided, we need to ensure that there are more resources available for treatment,” Shapiro said.
In the state Senate, Mastriano proposed creating a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for anyone convicted of selling fentanyl resulting in someone’s death.
“The current fentanyl crisis is a major component of the deadly crime wave sweeping through Pennsylvania, thanks to the soft-crime policies of progressive Democrats like Attorney General Josh Shapiro. He has consistently failed to protect our communities from violent criminals. and drug traffickers who thrive on lawlessness,” Mastriano said in a statement. “As governor, I will ensure that we impose tougher sentences on convicted fentanyl dealers, equip our police departments with the resources to properly tackle drug crime, and increase funding for prosecutors in the high crime areas.”
Democratic voter Gene Stilp is an EMT and says he has experienced the fentanyl crisis and the many overdoses first hand.
“It’s not just in the cities, it’s in rural Pennsylvania, and rural Pennsylvanians need to realize that Democratic politics are better for them,” Stilp said.
Republican voter Kimberly Geyer thinks her party would be in the best position to fight the fentanyl epidemic.
“We’re killing our population here. We’re killing our young people between 20 and 50 because they’re taking fentanyl, they think they’re taking something else, and it’s mixed with fentanyl,” Geyer said.
Fox News’ latest power rankings show Republicans expected to hold 231 seats at home, and the Senate is still struggling.