We want to stop the spread of fentanyl

By Rob Portman and Mike Bishop

Synthetic forms of heroin have flooded Midwestern communities and taken lives at unprecedented and tragic rates.

We now have an opportunity to make significant progress to help combat the influx of fentanyl — the deadliest killer in this crisis.

This week, the House of Representatives passed the STOP Act, a bipartisan bill we authored that will help keep more synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped into the U.S., and a Senate committee approved the bill, moving it to the Senate floor where we hope it will soon have a vote.

Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, are displayed before a press conference regarding a major drug bust, at the office of the New York Attorney General, September 23, 2016 in New York City. New York State Attorney General Eric Scheiderman's office announced Friday that authorities in New York state have made a record drug bust, seizing 33 kilograms of heroin and 2 kilograms of fentanyl. According to the attorney general's office, it is the largest seizure in the 46 year history of New York's Organized Crime Task Force. Twenty-five peopole living in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Jersey have been indicted in connection with the case.

We need the STOP Act because fentanyl has invaded our communities and is increasingly robbing people of their God-given potential and taking lives.

2016 was the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths, both nationally and in Michigan and Ohio.

In the Detroit area, early calculations estimate that fentanyl was involved in 75 percent of fatal overdoses last year. Across Ohio, the same trend rings true. In the Cincinnati area, fentanyl overdose deaths have increased by more than 1,000 percent since 2013.

Law enforcement officials are facing a new challenge, as this synthetic drug is readily available and relatively cheap. Fentanyl is so deadly that a few flakes is enough to be fatal, and its extreme potency makes it difficult to detect because it is often transported in small quantities.

Unlike other drugs that are mostly smuggled over land, most illegal fentanyl is manufactured in laboratories in China and transported into the U.S. through a federal agency — the U.S. Postal Service.  

Fentanyl manufacturers and distributors prefer the Postal Service because — unlike private carriers like UPS, FedEx and DHL — the Postal Service is not required to get what is called advance electronic data on international packages entering the U.S. This information provides additional data, such as where a package is from, where it is going and what it contains. Law enforcement needs this information to identify suspicious packages, test them, and seize them if they contain illegal drugs.  

The STOP Act will hold the Postal Service to the same standard as private carriers, close this loophole and give law enforcement the tools they need — and are asking for — to keep more fentanyl out of the U.S.  

More than one-third of the Senate and more than half of the House of Representatives have supported this effort, and President Trump’s opioid commission endorsed it. It’s a common-sense solution, and it will make a real difference in combating this epidemic.

Passing the House of Representatives and a Senate committee this week is a positive step, but there is a growing urgency to get this bill passed in the Senate and to the president for his signature. Fentanyl is at the forefront of the opioid epidemic that is taking lives, sidelining workers and crippling communities.   

The STOP Act alone won’t solve this epidemic, but it will help. We know where most fentanyl is coming from, and we know how it is being transported into our country. This is an opportunity for Congress to give law enforcement a significant tool to combat this crisis. We don’t have time to wait. We need to enact the STOP Act to keep more fentanyl out of our communities and help turn the tide of addiction in our country.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is a Republican from Ohio and U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, represents Michigan's 8th district.