PITTSBURGH, PA – With the midterm elections just three weeks away, crime remains a top concern for voters. In the key swing state of Pennsylvania, candidates are talking a lot about the nationwide fentanyl epidemic in the context of being tough on crime.
According to data reported by the Pennsylvania Office of Drug Surveillance and Misuse Prevention, 78% of all the state’s drug overdose deaths in 2021 were fentanyl related. CDC data shows synthetic opioid deaths, primarily from fentanyl, have increased dramatically across the country and the drug has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans since 2015.
“I think it’s a huge issue, I don’t know who will be able to solve it, it’s just very sad,” said Pennsylvania voter Haresh Assumel.
A Fox News poll shows voters are split on which party would be better at fighting opioid addiction.
Pollster and Floyd Institute for Public Policy Center for Opinion Research Director at Franklin & Marshall College Berwood Yost said drug addiction will likely not have a defining role in races this year, but he thinks talking about it potentially gives the candidate a way of connecting to an important issue that voters care about.
“Some of the more rural communities in Southwest Pennsylvania had been hit really hard by that epidemic, it’s certainly important to many citizens,” said Yost.
It’s a toss up in the high profile race for U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania between celebrity talk show host Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democrat Lt. Governor John Fetterman. Dr. Oz has been bringing up the fentanyl epidemic at nearly every event on the campaign trail lately.
“We have a weak justice system, that cannot deal with fentanyl. My opponent has called to decriminalize all of these opioid drugs and wants to have heroin injection sites. What is that about?” Dr. Oz said to voters at a campaign event with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, on Monday.
Oz often attacks Fetterman for a soft-on-crime approach, and said last week that more drug use can mean more violence and crime.
Fetterman denies the soft-on-crime claims. When it comes to fentanyl, his campaign says Fetterman knows we need comprehensive solutions to address this crisis.
“Unlike Dr. Oz, who’s once again trying to distract from having a fortune invested in these drug companies, John actually understands PA’s opioid epidemic because he tackled this scourge as mayor of Braddock. That’s why John knows we need comprehensive solutions to address this crisis including harm reduction strategies, investing in treatment, cracking down on drug trafficking, holding big pharma accountable, and partnering with law enforcement to keep our communities safe,” Fetterman Campaign Spokesperson Joe Calvello said in a statement. “One of the reasons John strongly supports decriminalizing marijuana is that law enforcement resources should be focused on combating serious crime that will actually make Pennsylvania safer.”
In the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial race between Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican State Senator Doug Mastriano, combating fentanyl has been a key factor on the campaign trail.
Attorney General Shapiro says fentanyl is a soaring crisis in Pennsylvania communities. Shapiro said about a year ago, he issued a report highlighting the critical need to get the fentanyl crisis under control.
“Over my first three and a half, four years in office, we seized 3.2 million doses of heroin. In the last year alone, we’ve seized 4 billion doses of fentanyl, and now we’re seeing more and more fentanyl pills being sold on the market,” said Shapiro.
For years, Pennsylvania has had one of the highest drug overdose rates in the country. Shapiro said the Commonwealth is losing 15 residents a day to overdoses, which are now almost exclusively deaths from fentanyl.
“In addition to a robust law enforcement response which we provided, we need to make sure that there are more resources available for treatment,” said Shapiro.
In the state Senate, Mastriano proposed creating a mandatory-minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for anyone convicted of selling fentanyl that leads to someone’s death.
“The ongoing fentanyl crisis is a major component of the deadly crime wave sweeping across Pennsylvania, which is thanks to soft on crime policies by progressive Democrats like Attorney General Josh Shapiro. He has consistently failed to keep our communities safe from violent criminals and drug dealers who are thriving in lawlessness,” Mastriano said in a statement. “As Governor, I’ll ensure that we implement tougher penalties on convicted fentanyl dealers, provide our police departments with resources to properly combat drug-related crime, and increase funding for prosecutors in high-crime areas.”
Democrat voter Gene Stilp is an EMT, and says he’s experienced the fentanyl crisis and the many overdoses firsthand.
“It’s not just in the cities, it’s in rural Pennsylvania, and rural Pennsylvanians have to realize that the democratic policies are better for them,” said Stilp.
Republican voter Kimberly Geyer thinks her party would be best to tackle the fentanyl epidemic.
“We’re killing our population here. We’re killing our young people between the ages of 20-50 because they’re taking fentanyl, they think they’re taking something else, and it’s laced with fentanyl,” said Geyer.
The latest Fox News power ranking shows Republicans are expected to take 231 seats in the house, and the Senate is still a toss-up.