Allentown, Pa. - In an op-ed in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Congressman Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa. 14th) detail legislation they are spearheading to hold foreign countries accountable for turning a blind eye to illicit fentanyl exports to the United States.
Under the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act, a nation exporting illicit fentanyl would be ineligible for U.S. taxpayer-subsidized foreign aid or Export-Import Bank loans if it fails to cooperate with U.S. narcotics control efforts. These conditions already apply to any nation identified by the Department of State as a major producer or trafficker of illicit heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals.
Senator Toomey has introduced the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act in the Senate with Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.). Congressman Reschenthaler was an early cosponsor of this legislation in the House, which was introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis 5th) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.11th).
Read the full op-ed:
Combating fentanyl requires a robust response
Senator Pat Toomey and Congressman Guy Reschenthaler
April 18, 2019
Sergeant Giovanni Trello of the Aliquippa Police Department is lucky to be alive.
In September 2017, Mr. Trello responded to a drug overdose call, a far-too-common occurrence in southwestern Pennsylvania. After arriving on the scene, Mr. Trello began collecting evidence - needles, stamp bags and other drug paraphernalia - from inside the idling vehicle. When he grabbed an open Ziploc bag, Mr. Trello accidentally released a small plume of drug residue into the air.
That was all it took. In a matter of moments, Mr. Trello passed out. He awoke in the back of an ambulance on his way to the hospital. Mr. Trello had just overdosed on pure fentanyl.
Mr. Trello's brush with death is a reminder of the extraordinary lethality of this drug, which has killed thousands of Pennsylvanians in recent years. Fentanyl has now surpassed heroin as the leading cause of drug overdose deaths. In its prescription form, fentanyl can treat patients with pain so severe that traditional opioids are ineffective. But the fentanyl found on our streets today is not pharmaceutical-grade, diverted from hospitals or stolen from medicine cabinets. This deadly product comes from China.
There, drug kingpins have discovered that the misery of opioid-addicted Americans is a lucrative export opportunity. Bad actors easily avoid attention from both American and Chinese law enforcement, hiding among China's massive, mostly legitimate chemical sector, numbering 160,000 firms. And only a tiny fraction of fentanyl is necessary to deliver the same intense high as heroin.
Put another way, shipping and production costs are small, but the potential for profit is enormous. Two pounds of Chinese fentanyl can be acquired for $5,000 yet generate $1.5 million in revenue. Usually, this poison is shipped to Mexican drug cartels that smuggle fentanyl-laced heroin across the southern border. It's also sold on the "dark web" directly to American drug pushers, who add minute, imprecise amounts of fentanyl to knock-off Vicodin and OxyContin pills that have been produced with pill presses and tableting machines that also were purchased illegally from China.
Congress passed a law in 1970 to discourage foreign governments from facilitating drug epidemics by ignoring U.S. narcotic control efforts. The law, which has been routinely updated as different psychoactive substances became popular, allows the United States to cut off foreign aid to a country that enables producers and traffickers to export heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States. This law, however, has not been updated to apply to countries where illicit fentanyl is produced and exported on a large scale.
That's why we're spearheading the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act. Our bipartisan legislation enables the president to cut off certain foreign aid and taxpayer-backed loans, such as those made by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank, to major illicit fentanyl-producing countries. To regain good standing, a penalized country would need to adopt and enforce laws and regulations comparable to U.S. standards for prosecuting drug traffickers, scheduling new psychoactive substances on an emergency basis and registering pill presses or tableting machines.
Thankfully, China is beginning to change in large part due to the attention shown by Congress and vocal pressure from President Donald Trump. At the beginning of April, Beijing announced it would treat all fentanyl-like drugs as controlled substances. While this is certainly a welcome development, legislation like the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act must be enacted so all foreign countries will think twice before enabling the drug-induced destruction of American communities and families.
No one piece of legislation can stop this scourge. It requires an end to the unsafe overprescribing of narcotics, better treatment of underlying mental illnesses and more research into non-addictive pain therapies. But as this drug epidemic has evolved from a domestic problem caused by legally-prescribed painkillers into an international challenge, our government must adapt, too. Passage of our bipartisan bill is a strong place to start.