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Fentanyl Soldiers

While lawmakers remain focused on the Ukrainian conflict, there’s a war on for the streets and for the American way of life.

Homelessness in San Francisco during rainstorm
(Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The number of casualties of the Russo–Ukrainian war are not publicized—both belligerents are naturally reticent about their losses. Ukraine claims that just ten thousand fighters perished in the conflict, but nobody believes that number; according to the American estimates, 100,000 have been killed and wounded on each side. (A higher figure of 180,000 Russian dead and wounded comes from the Norwegian Chief of Defense.) Meanwhile, over the course of the war, the United States has suffered roughly similar casualties.

Our deaths are not in Ukraine, where perished American volunteers are counted in single digits. The battle lines of our war are drawn not in the steppes of Donbas, but in the downtowns of American cities such as Baltimore, Seattle, and Philadelphia. In 2021, the last year for which the full data are available, 107,600 Americans died of drug overdoses. Although the statistics for 2022 are yet to be worked out—it takes up to six months to finalize data from coroners—we are likely to see drug deaths hovering around the 100,000 threshold.


One doesn’t need to know the exact figure of the dead to feel the depth of the crisis. Taking a walk in San Francisco would suffice. Block after block, and occasionally an entire plaza, is crowded with zombies—zoned-out men, frequently bent over due to their reduced ability to control their limbs, buying and doing drugs.

Not all of them will die today—they “only” die at the rate of close to two a day around here in San Francisco—but all put their bodies on the line. Any high can be their last. Recently, a San Francisco citizen journalist who goes by JJ Smith recorded a video of an addict passed out on the street who, the citizen journalist says, took six doses of Narcan to revive. Not all who manage to survive an overdose return to normal functioning level. Many will remain partially incapacitated for the rest of their lives. Adam Mesnick, another citizen journalist who tweets as @bettersoma, dubs the victims of street drugs “fentanyl soldiers.”

Fentanyl entered the street narcotics market close to a decade ago. For several years now, the majority of the fatal overdoses across the country involve the synthetic opiate.

Fentanyl components come from China, America’s top military and economic rival. From China, the drug is trafficked to Latin America, where it is assembled by cartels that bring it across our undefended border and set up shop in American cities. Sanctuary cities and states are reluctant to enforce immigration laws, allowing cartels to flourish. Notoriously, the Soros-backed former San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, argued that street-level drug dealers are mere children who deserve our compassion.

Most fentanyl soldiers are men of military age. Some, in fact, have served our country in uniform and, being left with a burden of physical and emotional pain, have ended up destitute. According to HUD, in 2020, eight percent of the homeless were veterans, a number far exceeding the proportion of former servicemen in the general population. 


Addiction waves have historically been treated as a national security problem. As the U.S. entered the First World War, for instance, it was discovered that, in some urban areas, the majority of young men were ineligible for service due to opiate dependency. The situation today bears some resemblance to those decades.

One study by Dembek et al. found an overlap between the top ten states for fentanyl abuse from 2006 to 2017 and the top ten states for military recruitment in 2018. The authors also noted an especially high age-adjusted fatal overdose rate among young men in Appalachia, the area from which the United States armed forces traditionally draws a disproportionate number of recruits. Dembek speculated that “given that recent military recruiting goals have not been met, opioid use could be a contributing factor.”

War might be an apt metaphor for what’s going on in fentanyl-infested areas; if so, the U.S. is losing. In San Francisco, sizable portions of the city are paralyzed, off-limits to most normal people. People who some years ago were free to live their lives the way they chose now structure their routines around avoiding the army of dopers camped out in the city center. 

Children have to be escorted to and from school out of concern for their safety. Residents talk of developing PTSD from witnessing death and depravity on the street on a daily basis, and a sense of relief they experience when moving to another city or state. Commuting between the city and its suburbs is inhibited because fentanyl soldiers took over BART, Bay Area’s main transportation network. In the off-peak hours, BART is effectively turned into a mobile drug den; weekend ridership is virtually nonexistent.

The opiate epidemic had many factors—for instance, the drug use and overdose rate went up drastically in 2020 when much of the country went on lockdown. Yet, chief among the reasons addiction became a prominent future of our city life is ease of access. Fentanyl is simply too easy to get—here in the Bay Area, all it takes is reaching downtown San Francisco, where it is readily available and often sold within view of police officers. It’s downhill from there: getting addicted to a chemical fifty times more powerful than heroin doesn’t take long.

The most prevalent and the deadliest street drug today originated within the borders of the nation that aims to challenge American global dominance. Without firing a shot, China has managed to inflict greater casualties than those sustained by Russia in Ukraine. But while Russia is at least united behind its own war effort, the opiate epidemic is eroding the United States from the inside. China is, in effect, both culling our military and destroying our way of life. Acting as Chinese proxies, cartels run forward-operating bases south of the border, sending chemical weapons to every region of our nation.

Americans may not feel personally responsible for fentanyl deaths as they might have during the War on Terror when they voted for hawkish politicians. Yet they keep electing representatives who are allowing the China-linked cartels’ conquest of the United States. Our casualties in the fentanyl war, the conflict that we choose to ignore, are many times higher than those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas recently called for using military force against the cartels inside Mexico. Having lived on the American territory effectively ceded to these criminal organizations, I am sympathetic to his proposal. A less drastic measure would involve enforcing American immigration laws in all cities and states and fortifying the border. Increasing penalties for drug-related offenses is another common-sense idea. Either way, it’s a war out here; we are not winning. We may continue to ignore it, but peace isn’t coming unless action is taken.