REP. RYAN COSTELLO: Finding solutions to Fentanyl crisis
Last month, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, of which I am a member, held a hearing on the ongoing opioid epidemic that is affecting communities throughout the country, including right here in Southeast Pennsylvania. We focused our hearing on the increasing abuse of fentanyl, a controlled narcotic that has been utilized in a hospital setting for post-surgery pain management since the 1960s. Fentanyl is such a potent opioid that it is measured in micrograms, which is smaller than a milligram, and as little as two milligrams of the substance can be lethal. Illegal, street-grade fentanyl is up to fifty times more lethal than heroin, and heroin is increasingly cut with fentanyl, often unbeknownst to the user. In fact, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents have become ill simply from having skin contact when seizing fentanyl and drug-sniffing canines can die from inhaling the substance.
Fueled by the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, fentanyl increasingly is being sold by itself, as those struggling with substance misuse seek higher highs for less costly prices. It began to be more widely recognized for its role in swiftly rising drug overdose deaths in 2014. Originally, these statistics were concentrated in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New England, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, and Indiana, but overdoses related to the drug’s use have since risen in neighboring states throughout the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were over 500 reported law enforcement encounters testing positive for fentanyl in Pennsylvania in 2015, statistics that rank the state second only to Ohio nationwide. Of the drugs detected in Pennsylvania overdose victims, fentanyl is the second most common. Beyond the worrying numbers, these are lives lost, tragically tearing apart families and communities.
Last year, the Energy and Commerce Committee was instrumental in drafting the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act, both of which I supported and were signed into law. These bipartisan pieces of legislation will increase access to treatment for individuals struggling with addiction, and they will expand prevention, education, and intervention efforts. In particular, CARA will provide more assistance to first responders and law enforcement, such as increasing access to the life-saving overdose antidote, naloxone.
Along with prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts, interdiction of the fentanyl supply is an additional and critical component of a comprehensive approach to confronting this deadly drug. Fentanyl sent by mail from abroad, utilizing the U.S. postal system, is one way drugs continue to enter the country illegally. A recent study on counterfeit drugs found that foreign postal mail is now one of the primary methods for importing illegal drugs and opioids, contributing to the uptick in overdose deaths across the nation. Requiring the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to utilize advanced electronic customs data on a package’s origin, destination, and content would align U.S. postal mail with private shipping companies that already require this data.
Because of the crisis we are facing, I have cosponsored the Synthetic Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. The bill aims to prevent synthetic drugs – such as fentanyl, from being shipped to the United States by drug traffickers. Illicitly-produced synthetic opioids have strong associations with countries like China and India, where there is little to no regulation and fentanyl and its analogs are manufactured in both small and large-scale production laboratories. The STOP Act would require foreign postal operators to send advance electronic data to the USPS for packages imported into the United States, enabling Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other agencies to target high-risk shipments for screening. The bill also give USPS more authority to scan arriving mail from places that are currently exempt from CBP protocol, helping stop these packages from reaching U.S. borders in the first place.
A vigilant federal response, including the STOP Act, is a crucial component to reversing the tide of addiction, helping save lives in our community and across the country.
Rep. Ryan Costello (R-6th Dist.) is a member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.