Joining forces to fight the opioid epidemic
July 20, 2018
More than 115 people in the United States die each day from an opioid overdose. Misuse and addiction of prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids has resulted in the destruction of numerous American lives from a various array of backgrounds. Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans nationwide have died from opioid overdoses, while thousands more struggle daily to stay in recovery.
The opioid epidemic is wreaking havoc across the country and it’s destroying families and derailing lives right here in our community. Last year, 231 people died from opioids in Bucks County alone — a 35 percent increase from 2016.
Pennsylvania is unfortunately the worst-hit state from this deadly epidemic and it isn’t going away. It’s only getting worse.
To showcase how Bucks and Montgomery counties are fighting this epidemic, we joined forces to facilitate a roundtable discussion with local law enforcement, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), educational representatives, and medical professionals last week. Understanding the ways in which each unique institution combats the opioid crisis has allowed for us to understand the integral nature of the epidemic while also identifying areas of improvement.
From a legislative standpoint, we are working hard to limit the supply of opioids entering our nation.
The House recently focused on an array of opioid-related legislation and passed dozens of bills to address the issue. These bills seek to promote prevention education, treatment and recovery support services, and prison support services. However, more must be done, and we must consider a multifaceted approach to properly address this epidemic. Consideration must be given to law enforcement and homeland security reforms as they are also important pieces to the opioid puzzle.
As chairman and committee member of the House Homeland Security Committee, we recognize the vital role law enforcement plays in combating the opioid epidemic. They need the tools and training necessary to stem the tide of deadly drugs entering the country. Just like our INTERDICT Act, which was signed into law. It provides CBP with the latest in chemical screening devices and scientific support to detect and intercept fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. Additionally, we need to ensure that the DEA has the authority to carry out needed enforcement actions for drug diversion control investigations.
And we’re already seeing results. Last month, CBP seized $1.7 million worth of fentanyl at the Port of Philadelphia. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, cocaine, or other drugs to provide a cheaper and sometimes stronger high. It has quickly become a deadly factor in drug overdoses. So far, in 2018, customs agents have seized over 1,000 pounds of fentanyl, an increase from the 440 pounds seized in 2016. Investment in our law enforcement allows us to intercept synthetic opioids like fentanyl before they can cause harm to our communities.
As we work to address the root causes of the opioid epidemic, the insight we gain from stakeholder roundtables shapes our federal response. The first responders who face the opioid crisis every day understand the reforms needed to end this epidemic.
We are all stakeholders in the mission to eradicate this epidemic — be it through education, community involvement, recovery efforts, or law enforcement support. Constant engagement between federal, state, and local leaders partnering with law enforcement, health-care professionals, and educators will set us on the path to free our community from the advance of opioid abuse. A solution is possible, but only if we are willing to work together.
Congressman Michael McCaul represents Texas’s tenth congressional district. He is the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick is a member of the Homeland Security, Small Business and Foreign Affairs committees. He represents Pennsylvania’s 1st District which includes all of Bucks County as well as a portion of Montgomery County.
The op-ed originally appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times, here.