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Nearly 1 in 3 on Medicare got commonly abused opioids

With an overdose epidemic worsening, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries received at least one prescription for commonly abused opioids such as OxyContin (pcitured) and fentanyl in 2015.

President Trump recently issued a dire warning on fentanyl, the synthetic opioid being shipped into our communities from China. This deadly drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and can kill in amounts smaller than a grain of sand. Montanans are unfortunately all too familiar, with fentanyl on the rise in the state, increasingly used as a recreational drug and sometimes unknowingly mixed with heroin.

It’s spread has exacerbated the opioid epidemic that few Americans have been spared from, whether through losing friends and loved ones or watching as members of nearly every community suffer with the scourge of addiction. And headlines reflect the widespread nature of the crisis. In November, a Missoula man pled guilty to dealing opioids connected to multiple overdoses in southwest Montana. This spring, two Billings residents were arrested after selling fentanyl pills to an undercover source. In June, Butte first responders and schools began to carry a drug meant to reverse opioid overdoses. Clearly, not enough is being done to keep the deadliest drugs away from Montanan families.

But it doesn’t have to remain this way — there’s already an identified solution that would help keep fentanyl out. A loophole in the global postal system is regularly exploited by foreign drug traffickers to send fentanyl into the country undetected, sometimes in massive quantities. Under current law, all international packages delivered to the U.S. by private carriers must include advance electronic data, or AED. This basic security information helps law enforcement agencies like Customs and Border Protection screen the massive number of inbound shipments for deadly material, including synthetic opioids. But foreign packages sent through the global postal system and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service do not require AED. That leaves our security agencies and law enforcement without the comprehensive tools needed to effectively screen 1.3 million packages entering the country every day. International drug rings have seized on this vulnerability to flood the U.S. with toxic fentanyl — according to a bipartisan congressional report from this year, online traffickers recommend using the postal system to ship opioids to the U.S., warning that deliveries through private carriers are more likely to be stopped and seized.

It’s taken more than a decade, but we’re thankfully close to finally closing this loophole. The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Protection (STOP) Act passed in the House of Representatives this summer with an overwhelming vote of 353-52. The bill would mandate AED on all international packages, and was supported by President Donald Trump in the same tweet he used to warn about foreign fentanyl. Now the STOP Act must pass the Senate. But despite an agreement on a path forward for the bill from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and the co-sponsorship of over a third of the chamber, the bill is still waiting for a scheduled vote. With the opioid epidemic destroying lives across Montana and the country, a continued delay is simply unacceptable. That’s why along with President Trump, the STOP Act is endorsed by organizations at the frontlines of the epidemic, including the American Medical Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.

There are countless Americans from all walks of life working to fight back against this national health crisis. But these efforts at addiction treatment, prescription reform or public education simply cannot be effective without stopping the deadliest opioids from reaching our communities in the first place. So it’s time for action. Every day more families are torn apart or lose their loved ones to synthetic opioids. The United States Senate can help reverse this trend by acting now to keep fentanyl out.

 

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Ridge is the former governor of Pennsylvania and was the director and later the Secretary of Homeland Security from 2001-2005. He is a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition dedicated to closing the loophole in the global postal system.

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