The Grove Hall Forum was all ears Monday night as Shippensburg University welcomed Paul Rexton Kan to discuss how the illegal transportation of drugs into the United States affects local communities.
Kan, an expert in American foreign policy, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College and a published author, managed to keep a conversational tone as he explained the morose subject. He began his lecture, presented by SU’s political science department, with an overview of organized crime and the illegal activities that drive international drug trafficking. Transnational drug trafficking alone is responsible for generating approximately $300 to 500 billion in revenue annually.
Kan provided an in-depth look at how the disputes that arise due to organized crime may have consequences not only for those directly involved, but also for innocent locals with nowhere to go.
Transitioning from gang violence and illegal trafficking, Kan started talking about opioids and the toll they have taken on Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole.
In 2016, Pennsylvania saw 2,000 deaths solely from opioids, 60 to 70 percent of which were from fentanyl—a synthetic pain reliever found to be much more powerful than heroin alone. Just this year, over the course of 10 days from late February to early March, there were 13 overdoses in York County, according to Kan.
“Nationwide, we had over 60,000 deaths last year, in the United States, from opioid overdose… That’s more than the entirety of the people that we lost during the Vietnam War. It’d be like having one 9/11 attack in the United States every few weeks,” Kan said.
Throughout his presentation, Dr. Kan included slides of images he took during his own expedition along the U.S. border. He stressed the importance of understanding drug policy as foreign policy, health policy and community standards—all wrapped into one—as a key to better understand activities such as addiction or drug trafficking.
Kan said the most important takeaway from his lecture could not be found within the lecture itself.
“I think the most important thing you can take away tonight, is by you folks showing up here… We all have a role in this,” he said.
Despite the large scope of the issue, Kan repeatedly emphasized throughout his lecture that the effects of drug trafficking can be seen throughout local communities. He noted, disappointedly, that it is particularly difficult to track the data on drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania, requiring that close-attention be paid to alternative sources, such as police reports and news coverage.
“It transcends race, class. From what we know of the data, the average profile of somebody in Pennsylvania who dies of an opioid overdose is a 38-year-old white male… If you’re 38 years old, that’s the prime earning year of your life. You should be starting your stuff for retirement,” Kan said. “But no, these people in Pennsylvania are dying.”