Column: STOP Act will push back rise of fentanyl


Every time we start to make some progress in pushing back against the drug epidemic, a new challenge emerges and the crisis continues to worsen.

2016 was the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths — in the Midwest and nationally — and the data coming in for 2017 indicates last year was even worse. A Centers for Disease Control report from earlier this year found that Midwestern states experienced a 70 percent increase in opioid overdoses from July, 2016 to September, 2017.

At the heart of this issue is the rise of fentanyl: a synthetic drug 50 times more potent than heroin that is increasingly used in place of heroin or prescription drugs — and often added to other drugs to increase their potency, oftentimes unknowingly to the user.

Congress should act with urgency because people are overdosing and dying every day. This problem isn’t getting better — it’s getting worse.

Across a 21-county region of Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, about two-thirds of 2016 overdose deaths involved fentanyl and its analogues. While we await overdose figures for 2017, recent news stories only suggest this deadly synthetic drug has further saturated our communities.

In April, during what began as a routine traffic stop, police in Sandusky County, Ohio, seized 110 grams of fentanyl — enough to kill more than 50,000 people.

In May, two men were arrested in Toledo attempting to deliver about 280 grams of fentanyl to a local drug dealer — enough to kill 140,000 people, about equal to half the population of Toledo.

And this month, Toledo police seized 1.5 kilograms of fentanyl that three drug dealers were attempting to ship to Texas from a South Toledo Post Office. That’s enough fentanyl to kill the nearly the entire population of Columbus.

Unlike other drugs that are transported over land, most illegal fentanyl is manufactured in China and shipped into the U.S. through our own Postal Service. Because of its extreme potency, fentanyl can be shipped in small packages and is incredibly difficult for law enforcement to detect without additional information that helps identify suspicious packages.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, conducted a two-year investigation to determine how it is coming into our country and what can be done about it.

We learned that fentanyl manufacturers prefer to ship through the Postal Service, and essentially guarantee delivery when doing so, because the Postal Service has lower security standards than private carriers.

UPS, FedEx, DHL, and others are required to get what is called advance electronic data on international packages entering the U.S. This information — such as the names and addresses of the sender and recipient and the declared contents of a package — helps law enforcement identify suspicious packages, stop them in transit, test them, and seize them if they contain illegal drugs.

The Postal Service is not required to get this information, so they have chosen not to. We learned that drug traffickers have exploited this loophole in our international mail screening. It is time for Congress to close it.

The result of our investigation is legislation I introduced called the STOP Act.

The STOP Act will hold the Postal Service to the same standard as private carriers and require them to get this information on all overseas packages entering the U.S. These are the tools law enforcement need — and are asking for — to keep deadly synthetic drugs out of our communities. It is past time that we ensure they have this information.

This common-sense, bipartisan solution is supported by more than one-third of the Senate, more than half of the House of Representatives, and it was endorsed by President Trump’s opioid commission.

The House of Representatives passed this legislation last week, and the Senate Finance Committee has agreed to move the bill forward. It’s time for the full Senate to vote on the bill and get it signed into law.

People are desperate for solutions to this opioid crisis overtaking our communities. Addressing the overwhelming supply of these synthetic drugs is perhaps the most pressing challenge before us, and the STOP Act will make a real difference in keeping more of the deadliest drugs in this epidemic out of our country.

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Rob Portman

Guest columnist

 

 

Rob Portman is the junior U.S. Senator for Ohio.