Overdosing from synthetic opioids is one of the fastest-growing causes of death in America, a crisis long in the making but one which in recent years has reached critical levels. In 2017 alone, it’s estimated that opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 48,000 Americans — more than double the number from a decade earlier. Of those deaths, approximately 32,000 involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Fentanyl, in particular, can be especially vicious. It is up to 50 times as potent as heroin, and the average adult can be killed by as little as two or three milligrams — about the size of a few grains of salt.
Drug trafficking is one of the biggest and deadliest threats facing the United States. The federal government has a responsibility to help states combat this epidemic — and that means stopping the spread of this drug at the source, something states alone cannot easily do because the source is often not in America but rather in countries like China.
Get tougher on fentanyl traffickers
China is currently the world’s largest producer of illicit fentanyl, much of which ends up in the United States. Chinese-based pharmaceutical and chemical companies produce legitimate drugs, but many knowingly divert illegitimate fentanyl products to traffickers. These traffickers then use international mail to ship these products directly to the United States or sell them to drug cartels. Poor enforcement of fentanyl restrictions in China has allowed this trafficking threat to persist.
Insidious killer: China's deadliest export to America is fentanyl
To date, only a single fentanyl producer has been targeted with U.S. sanctions. That won’t cut it. To stem the flow of illicit drugs pouring into the United States from China and elsewhere, we have to get tougher on drug traffickers. Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies need additional resources and targeted sanctions tools to meet this challenge.
That’s why we’ve introduced the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, a bipartisan bill that would give U.S. law enforcement the tools it needs to combat opioid trafficking into the United States, particularly from China. Our bill would require the imposition of sanctions on criminal organizations that traffic these drugs into the United States, the financial institutions that assist them and the drug manufacturers that supply them. The legislation would also urge diplomatic efforts with U.S. partners to establish multilateral sanctions against foreign traffickers, and authorize new streams of funding across the U.S. government to combat opioid trafficking.
Some might find it unusual that a Republican from Arkansas and a Democrat from New York are working together on something. But when it comes to this issue we don’t think it’s unusual at all — we believe it’s necessary. Synthetic opioids have devastated both of our home states and many others across the country. If we hope to put an end to an epidemic that kills tens of thousands of people a year, we all need to work together.
We can start saving US lives now
We are optimistic about the road ahead. Congress has already passed sweeping legislation aimed at curbing opioid addiction here at home, but more needs to be done to stem the supply of opioids coming in from abroad. As Congress considers an annual defense bill, which is designed to defend our homeland, we have formed a bipartisan group of lawmakers who want our legislation included to deal with the fentanyl crisis. Strong drug enforcement is a critical part of homeland security, and we strongly believe our bill should be included in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act.
We cannot sit back and hope that the Communist Party in China starts doing a better job at drug enforcement. We need to act now to save American lives by curbing the flow of illegal drugs across our borders. The Fentanyl Sanctions Act is a great place to start.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Schumer & Cotton: Our bipartisan 'Fentanyl Sanctions Act' targets traffickers like China