MEDFORD, Ore.– President Trump signed a new bill into law on Wednesday that will crackdown on the shipment of illicit drugs into the country.
The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Protection or STOP Act is part of a package of 70 bills that received bipartisan support in Washington including that of opposites in Oregon’s Congressional delegation.
Representative Greg Walden (R) and Senator Ron Wyden (D) hailed the passage of the legislation and what it means for the fight against the opioid epidemic. Rep. Walden even penned a bill, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, that would give patients with opioid use disorder improved ability to access treatment.
“It’s about how we get the over-prescribed pain killers out of the market,” he said. “It’s about alternative pain management strategies and most of all telling people you got hope if you’ve got addiction because help is on the way.”
However, the STOP Act takes a different direction, one that could have big implications for the future of drug shipments from foreign countries into the U.S. The legislation is designed to to prevent dangerous illicit drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through the borders where they are later spread by drug traffickers in the states.
While Jackson County has seen an increase of opioid overdoses this year, with some being directly related to fentanyl, law enforcement says this act won’t have a direct affect on the Rogue Valley but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for preventing synthetic drugs from reaching the streets.
“This is a definite step in the right direction,” said Lt. Mike Budreau, Medford Police. “Anytime we can restrict the illicit drugs coming into the country that’s a good thing.”
The bill is targeting mailing systems which have been a main source of shipment for opioids. As Dr. Jim Shames of the Jackson County Health Department pointed out, drugs like fentanyl are so potent only a little bit is need to be shipped at a time.
“It takes so little you could put it in an envelope and mail it from China,” he said.
According to a report by the U.S.P.S Office of the Inspector General, 90 percent of illicit drug sellers on the dark web use the U.S. Postal Service. From purchase to delivery, these synthetic opioids have mostly passed through checks due to weaknesses in international mail securities.
However this new bill will allow for increased usage of advance electronic data or AED to screen packages coming from other countries. The AED includes details such as recipient’s name and address, the sender’s name and address and package contents. In a report from the inspector general’s office, some countries use AED and others don’t and the Postal Service is “bound by international standards to accept mail from all countries.”
Now though, the Postal Service will be able to submit more packages to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for screening at an International Service Center before entering U.S. borders.
“We don’t see a lot of the prescription – the illicit prescription medication that is being received by mail just hasn’t made it out here yet,” said Lt. Budreau. “That is something other parts of the country have seen.”
Medford Police say what it mostly sees are drugs like heroin or meth being shipped in by vehicle. Fentanyl does come in too but it’s usually been mixed in with other drugs before crossing the state line.
“The fentanyl issue or the scare is really associated with the heroin,” said Lt. Budreau. “So when we see fenantyl, we are seeing it combined with heroin often unbeknownst to the person that is taking it or dealing it.”
Ultimately health and law enforcement say this is great step but more steps will be needed.
“We need to get the countries where it’s being manufactured to really take some responsibility and accountability,” said Dr. Shames. “To control the illicit manufacturing of the drugs abroad.”
There have been 19 confirmed overdoses this year in Jackson County – the most ever. According to Medford Police three were confirmed deaths from fentanyl induced overdoses. Lab results are pending in several other cases.