President Trump demanded Monday that the Senate quickly take up and pass a bill to make it harder for overseas traffickers to slip synthetic opioids into the U.S. mail stream.
Officials say Chinese manufacturers in particular use the mail to flood the U.S. with fentanyl, devastating American towns.
The Republican-led House passed a bill in June to better track and derail illicit opioids in the mail, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
“We can, and must, END THIS NOW!” Mr. Trump tweeted. “The Senate should pass the STOP ACT — and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country. No more delay!”
Mr. Trump pledged to address the U.S. overdose crisis during the 2016 campaign and last year declared drug addiction to be a public health emergency.
He and Congress have approved billions of dollars for more law enforcement and treatment assistance. But stemming the flow of synthetic opioids before they reach the U.S. has proven an elusive goal.
The bill the House approved would require the U.S. Postal Service to provide advanced electronic data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on every foreign package by 2021. CBP would then try to weed out suspicious packages that contain fentanyl, carfentanil and similar drugs, which are far more powerful than heroin.
Synthetic opioids were connected to roughly 30,000 of the 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017, compared to about 16,000 involving heroin (though multiple drugs may be involved in any given death), according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s a huge surge from as recently as 2014, when synthetic opioids were linked to about 5,000 deaths.
Mr. Trump called the drugs slipping into the U.S. “a form of warfare.”
He also told Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week to consider a federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
It’s all part of an election-year effort to prove that Mr. Trump and GOP lawmakers are serious about reeling in the addiction crisis, though experts say they need to make bigger investments in treatment.
“Threatening lawsuits against drug companies is good politics since no one seems to like them these days. However, the president and Congress will have to put their money where their mouths are if they really want to do something useful about opioid addiction,” said Richard C. Ausness, a University of Kentucky law professor who tracks the issue.
Senate aides say the STOP Act and other opioids bills are on their to-do list, though Republicans who control the chamber haven’t carved out floor time.
“This bipartisan legislation passed the House overwhelmingly in June, and it’s long past time for the Senate to pass this bill so it can become law and begin making a difference,” Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican who wrote the bill, said Monday in support of the president.
As Mr. Trump demanded action, his “drug czar” nominee met with state and local leaders in New Haven, Connecticut, where 76 people at a park went to the ER last week after using a bad batch of K2, a form of “synthetic marijuana.”
“This was not opioid addiction, this was the distribution of a different poison,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. He said opioids weren’t directly involved, but said the issues are intertwined since many drug users were driven to the park by their opioid addiction.
The overdoses caused hectic scenes in the park near Yale University, as responders raced across the green to assist vomiting and convulsing users.
Products marketed as “K2” and “Spice” consists of shredded plant material that is sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids that stimulate cannabinoid-1 receptors in the brain.
While they stimulate the same receptors as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, they were developed as research tools and are far more potent, said Michael Baumann, chief of the designer drug research unit at the National Institute on Drug Abuse Intramural Research Program.
“The substances were never intended for human use,” Dr. Baumann said.