Bipartisan law introduced to help fight opioid epidemic


A bipartisan bill that might help fight the heroin and opioid crisis in Pennsylvania and around the nation was reintroduced in Congress on Tuesday by Republican Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Sen. Margaret Hassan, D- N.H.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla.; Rep. Pat Tiberi, R- Ohio; and Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

The bill, known as the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, seeks to amend the 1930 Tariff Act, which created a loophole in the global postal system that has recently allowed synthetic opioids such as carfentanil to make their way to the streets. If passed, the bill will require packages shipped from foreign posts to include electronic security data that will be screened by U.S. security officials prior to entering the country.

The data gathered will provide the contents of the package, where it was shipped from, who shipped the package and whom it is going to.

Carfentanil is used as a tranquilizer for large animals such as elephants and is not approved for human use. The drug resembles powdered cocaine or heroin and is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Toxicology reports in 2016 from overdose victims nationwide began to reveal the presence of carfentanil. After the findings, the Drug Enforcement Administration released a warning to police and the public about the dangers of the drug.

Naloxone, an overdose reversing drug, can reverse the affects of a carfentanil overdose, but because of the strength of carfentanil it may take several doses, according to the DEA.

In 2015, more than 3,500 people died from drug overdoses in Pennsylvania. Heroin and opioids were present in almost 60 percent of the deaths. In 2015, overdoses claimed 17 lives in Centre County, and according to the Department of Health, the numbers are expected to rise.

Former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of the Office of Homeland Security Tom Ridge is a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages. The group is a coalition of families, health care advocates, security experts, businesses and nonprofits that have formed to encourage lawmakers to address the shipping loophole.

“It is our shared responsibility to keep Americans safe, especially as terrorists, counterfeiters and drug traffickers continue to target our communities here at home,” Ridge said in a statement. “The global postal system loophole poses a major threat to our national security and to the health of our country. I am pleased that the STOP Act has strong bipartisan support.”

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi