Members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday took another step to try to address the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, voting to approve legislation intended to stop the flow of deadly synthetic drugs from entering the country through U.S. ports and border crossings.
The House voted 412-3 to approve the INTERDICT Act, which appropriates $15 million toward paying for portable chemical screening devices and other equipment and personnel needed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to intercept and analyze suspected supplies of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Earlier this year, an Ohio police officer collapsed and was rushed to a hospital after simply brushing suspected fentanyl powder off his uniform during a drug bust. Also this month, 14 people overdosed in Camden over a span of four hours due to suspected fentanyl-laced heroin.
The INTERDICT Act was penned by Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8th of Middletown, and is a key part of the legislative agenda being promoted by the House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force to address the opioid crisis.
It is one of the first bills from the agenda to advance from the House, and the first to explicitly address the dangers posed by synthetics like fentanyl.
Earlier this year, the House approved another task-force-promoted bill to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to share information about veterans and their family members who are prescribed opioids and other narcotics with state-based prescription monitoring programs.
“As communities across my district and across our nation continue to deal with the crisis of opioid abuse and addiction, it’s hard to imagine a synthetic drug up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine,” Fitzpatrick, a vice chairman of the task force, said in a statement. “The INTERDICT Act is bipartisan legislation that provides U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) access to the latest in chemical screening devices, and scientific support to detect and intercept synthetic opioids before they can cause more harm. I am grateful for the leadership of (co-sponsor) Rep. (Niki) Tsongas and the support of the House to pass this critical measure in a bipartisan fashion. I urge the Senate to act quickly and save lives.”
Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey has sponsored the legislation in his chamber, where it is pending before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, who co-chairs the House task force, applauded the bill’s passage. He said Customs and Border Protection officers are the nation’s first line of defense in detecting and intercepting illicit drugs that are “destroying lives.”
“This bipartisan bill ensures they have the resources needed to protect our streets from powerful drugs like fentanyl and other synthetic opioids,” MacArthur said. “I’m grateful members of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and other representatives from both parties were able to work together to pass this critical legislation.”
In addition to being pushed by the task force, the Gov. Chris Christie-led White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended the fast passage of the INTERDICT Act in its interim report, released this past summer.
Both the task force and commission have also pushed Fitzpatrick’s “Road to Recovery Act,” which would lift a decades-old restriction preventing larger drug treatment centers from billing Medicaid for residential treatment.
Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st of Camden, said Congress and the Trump administration must continue to act quickly to address the drug crisis.
“The disease of addiction is a national emergency, and we must act fast, remove barriers and help those suffering,” Norcross, the task force’s Democratic vice chairman, said in a statement. “Those at the forefront of this fight need resources to protect our communities from powerful synthetic opioids, and I am glad this bill passed the House to help keep our neighborhoods safe. This one piece of legislation is a step in the right direction, but we need to do more.”