U.S. House passes bill to stem flow of opioids into the country

  • Recorder Staff/Tom RelihanUsed syringes collected by Tapestry Health's Holyoke needle exchange. Tom Relihan

  • Rep. Annie Kuster speaks in Concord in August 2016. Kuster co-sponsored a bill greenlighting $9 million to help Customs and Border Protection battle the opioid crisis. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

For the Monitor
Published: 10/25/2017 12:21:08 AM

A bipartisan measure that would strengthen the ability of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to scope out attempts to smuggle opioids into the United States overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House on Tuesday.

The chamber voted, 412-3, to approve the legislation, which would greenlight $9 million to make sure the CBP has new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities and personnel needed to detect and intercept fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts and GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, a leader of the House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. The measure was co-sponsored by Rep. Annie Kuster. The Democrat in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District is a co-founder and Democratic chairwoman of the task force.

“The opioid epidemic that is devastating communities around New Hampshire and across the country requires a comprehensive response that addresses all aspects of this crisis,” Kuster said.

The congresswoman added that the bill, known as the INTERDICT Act, will help “reduce the flow of fentanyl and synthetic opioids from outside the country by giving CBP the necessary tools to detect and intercept these dangerous substances.”

New Hampshire ranks second in the country, behind West Virginia, in the number of opioid-related deaths per capita. And the Granite State ranks first in the nation for fentanyl-related deaths relative to its population.

Fentanyl is estimated to be at least 50 times as strong as than heroin. While heroin still contributes to the state’s overdose death toll, fentanyl was involved with nearly two-thirds of New Hampshire’s drug deaths in 2015.

Officials say fentanyl is generally imported into the country from Mexico or China, smuggled across the U.S. border or shipped into the country.

New Hampshire’s other U.S. House member, Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, took to Twitter to praise the bill, writing “today’s bill is a good 1st step towards dangerous drugs like fentanyl & carfentanil out of New Hampshire.”

A bipartisan companion bill to the legislation approved in the House has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

Last week, President Donald Trump said he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. His comments came more than two months after he first promised to declare an emergency health declaration. During his dozens of campaign stops in New Hampshire in 2015 and 2016, then-Republican presidential candidate Trump vowed that he would take action to battle the drug crisis if he went to the White House.

The Trump administration has gone more than nine months without a permanent director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the nation’s drug czar. Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, the administration’s nominee for the position, withdrew his name from consideration last week after a well-publicized media report that he pushed a measure that weakened government enforcement of suspicious drug distributors.

There’s speculation that former New Hampshire congressman Frank Guinta is once again being considered for the job. The Republican who represented New Hampshire’s 1st District for two terms, along with Kuster, was a co-founder of the Heroin Task Force. The group, which started with just a handful of members, has expanded to more than 90.

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