Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) introduced the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, otherwise known as the STOP Act, earlier this year in an attempt to stop dangerous synthetic drugs from getting into the United States from China.
In a bipartisan effort, Portman introduced the bill alongside senators Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), and Maggie Hassan (D., N.H).
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One of these deadly drugs getting into the United States is fentanyl, a narcotic that is known as one of the strongest opiates on the market. The effects of fentanyl include euphoria, mellowness, and drowsiness.
"I’ve probably met with 1,000 addicts or recovering addicts in the last few years and what I’ve been struck with in the last year particularly, is the number of people who talk to me about fentanyl and say they’ve never overdosed before until someone gave them a bad batch," said Portman. "Fentanyl is being used by traffickers, not in every dose, but in some of the doses to try to create an overdose because then people think, well, that must be a better high."
"You see this increased intensity of not just heroin but using these synthetic heroins that are so much more powerful and so it’s a vicious circle it’s a competition to create something stronger and more deadly to create that additional high which then creates more overdoses and more deaths," Portman said.
According to a report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the majority of fentanyl that is currently in the United States came from China.
"Chemical flows from China have helped fuel a fentanyl crisis in the United States, with significant increases in U.S. opioid overdoses, deaths, and addiction rates occurring over the last several years," the report said. "China is a global source of fentanyl and other illicit substances because the country’s vast chemical and pharmaceutical industries are weakly regulated and poorly monitored."
Portman’s bill is attempting to stop this by requesting more data when the United States receives shipments from foreign countries. The U.S. Postal Service currently does not require electronic customs data for mail entering the United States, unlike UPS or FedEx. Foreign countries can take advantage of this weakness and get these illicit items past the United States border.
"If you are a trafficker, you would prefer to send it by our U.S. postal system rather than through a private carrier because the private carriers are required to ask you more questions, and you have to provide more information about what’s in the package, where it’s from, where it’s going and you have to provide that in advance electronically and that enables law enforcement to be able to target packages based on patterns that they see and based on where it’s going," Portman said. "They know that they are less likely to be stopped because the postal service doesn’t have the advanced electronic data to be able to identify these packages."
The STOP Act would require foreign countries to provide electronic advance data including information about who and where the package is coming from, who it’s going to, and the contents of the package before it is able to cross the U.S. border. With this information, the Customs and Border Protection will be able to target illegal packages and keep the drugs from entering communities.
"Drug-traffickers are lacing heroin with fentanyl and other synthetics that are up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine, getting more people addicted and causing the recent spikes in overdoses that we have seen in Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, and towns all over Ohio," said Portman. "The STOP Act is designed to help stop these deadly drugs from reaching our communities, which will help save lives around the country."
Portman says that the Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, local law enforcement, and inspectors all believe this legislation will give them a tool to be able to more effectively target packages that have this poison in them.
"Ohioans have seen a sharp increase in levels of fentanyl, and the impact of this drug is devastating and has taken far too many lives," said Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. "The law enforcement community supports efforts to keep the supply of fentanyl out of our country."
"The STOP Act is one way we can make a common-sense policy change to improve the data available to law enforcement trying to identify fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic drugs entering the United States," he said.
President Donald Trump endorsed the STOP Act last year when it was first introduced and this year has formed a new commission that is designed to address the ongoing heroin and prescription drug epidemic.
"We will close the shipping loopholes that China and others are exploiting to send dangerous drugs across our borders in the hands of our own postal service," Trump said. "These traffickers use loopholes in the Postal Service to mail fentanyl and other drugs to users and dealers in the U.S."
"A Trump administration will crack down on this abuse and give law enforcement the tools they need to accomplish this mission," Trump said.
Portman says he is working right now on getting a markup for the bill in the Senate Finance Committee in the next couple of months, then getting it to the floor for a vote. There is companion legislation that has been introduced in the House as well by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R., Ohio) and Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.).