U.S. customs agents soon will have more resources to enhance fentanyl and synthetic opioid screening efforts at the border, after President Trump on Wednesday signed legislation co-authored by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown.
“In 2016, more than 42,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose, with nearly half being directly attributed to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids,” said Fitzpatrick, co-author of the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act, in a statement. “Halting the proliferation of these illicit drugs from Mexico and China is a crucial step in addressing our nation’s opioid epidemic.”
Under the new law, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will receive $15 million to increase the department’s equipment and personnel. The planned improvements include additional portable chemical screening devices available at ports of entry and mail and express consignment facilities, plus additional fixed chemical screening devices available in agency laboratories. The department will also have more scientists, personnel and facilities available to interpret screening test results from the field.
“Across the United States, synthetic opioids are flowing into our neighborhoods and destroying the lives of so many loved ones,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, a congressman from New Jersey, co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. “Customs and Border Protection is our first line of defense in detecting and intercepting these illicit substances from getting into our county. This bipartisan bill ensures they have the resources needed to protect our streets from powerful drugs like fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.”
The growing opioid epidemic has become even more dangerous with the proliferation of synthetic drugs like fentanyl, which can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Between 2015 and 2016, deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl rose by more than 70 percent, from 9,580 to 19,410 deaths, according to data from public health advocacy group Trust for America’s Health. In Pennsylvania, the rate of overall drug overdose deaths rose by 44 percent, from 26.3 deaths per 100,00 to 37.9.
The primary source of fentanyl is outside of the United States, in Mexico or China. The drug is smuggled in across the U.S. border or delivered via mail or express consignment couriers. Fentanyl can also be ordered online. Because of its potency, fentanyl typically comes in small amounts, making it more difficult for authorities to detect.
“Heroin and other opiates are killing our citizens,” said Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub. “We must take an all-out approach in stemming the tide of illegal drugs available for abuse. Law enforcement will continue to play a critical role in this battle against the drug scourge and the criminals who peddle this poison.”
The INTERDICT Act’s passage represents one prong of Fitzpatrick’s plan to turn back the opioid epidemic’s reach into communities. Last year, he introduced or co-sponsored legislation including the Road to Recovery Act, which expands Medicaid funding to support in-patient treatment for patients with substance abuses disorders, and the MONITOR Act, which incentivizes states to boost prescription drug monitoring programs to crack down on doctor shopping.
“I’ve seen what it’s done to our community in Bucks and Montgomery County,” said Fitzpatrick during a sit-down interview in Doylestown Borough last week. “Opioids are devastating an entire generation of young people. I’ve been to far too many memorial services. Family members are looking at me with tears in their eyes, begging us to do something. Getting INTERDICT signed into law will unequivocally lead to the saving of lives.”