If Democrats and Republicans in Washington can find agreement on one issue related to our nation’s borders, it should be the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities large and small across the United States.
U.S. Reps. Niki Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, introduced legislation targeting one of the most deadly aspects of the epidemic, and it deserves greater bipartisan support.
The International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act would provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the latest in chemical screening devices and scientific support to detect and stop fentanyl and other synthetic opioids from entering the country.
A Senate version of the bill was filed by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Markey and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, among others.
In filing the legislation, Tsongas and Fitzpatrick noted that fentanyl can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
Between 2014 and 2015, deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl rose 72 percent, amounting to 9,500 deaths, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health in May reported that an average of 38 people per week died from opioids in 2016, and fentanyl’s contribution to the scourge is on the rise. And much of the supply of fentanyl in Massachusetts was “illicitly produced” rather originating from pharmacies.
Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel has said it is difficult for users to tell the difference between heroin and the far more deadly fentanyl. So addicts seeking a fix instead meet their end.
The primary source of fentanyl is Mexico or China. The bill will provide U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with $15 million to buy hundreds of new portable chemical screening devices that can detect fentanyl at ports of entry, mail, and express consignment facilities across the country.
“Every corner of Massachusetts has been hit hard and people across my district — families, officials and those on the front lines of law enforcement and public health — all agree we need a comprehensive, cooperative, resourceful effort to effectively combat this crisis,” Tsongas said when she filed the legislation. “This bill is key to that mission, and would be a powerful tool for eliminating synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, from the equation.”
The INTERDICT Act should be a no-brainer. Congress should act quickly to send this legislation to President Donald Trump for his signature.