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by Tom Ridge
When I served as America’s first Secretary of Homeland Security following 9/11, it was my responsibility to protect Americans from threats ranging from terrorism to hurricanes to outbreaks of diseases. There was no greater honor than working alongside the men and women who keep our country safe. Our dedicated and talented first responders put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect the American people from dangers seen and unseen.
Today, these brave Americans are handling a different sort of crisis, one that may be an even greater danger to our country and one that the people of West Virginia unfortunately know all too well — the opioid epidemic.
Opioid-related drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, surpassing the number of those killed by gun violence and car accidents for the first time in U.S. history. We see some of the most shocking numbers in West Virginia, where someone dies from a drug overdose every 10 hours.
That’s why I find it so troubling that one of the major ways for deadly synthetic drugs to enter our communities is through a loophole in the global postal system — a loophole that we know how to close.
Every day, over 1 million packages enter the country without vital advanced security data, which law enforcement needs to screen and stop deadly mailed drugs. This data is required for packages sent through private carriers, but not for the postal system.
That means criminals and drug dealers have an easy option for sending toxic opioids into the country without detection. In a time where it’s easier than ever to access the dark web and purchase drugs with just a click of a button, this loophole’s impact is especially dangerous.
We’ve already seen the loophole’s deadly effects in West Virginia. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and was involved in 324 fatal overdoses in the state during the last year alone. It’s so dangerous that simply breathing near it or brushing a flake off your clothes can be life threatening.
Yet, we see almost constant news of drug dealers bringing this poison — and its even deadlier cousin, carfentanil — into West Virginia, and the fatal overdoses that follow.
To combat this influx in synthetic opioids, law enforcement officers are fighting on the front lines, sometimes with grave results. Just this summer, two officers in Huntington were hospitalized after handling a drug arrest where they were exposed to heroin likely mixed with fentanyl. We’ve seen similar incidents across the country, from DEA agents unintentionally overdosing during a field test in New Jersey to drug-sniffing dogs almost dying in Florida.
Because this epidemic hits Americans from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats alike agree that urgent action is needed. This summer, President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued its first report calling for federal legislation and a presidential directive to stop the flow of deadly drugs through the global postal system.
In Congress, there is also broad bipartisan support for the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which would help cut off the postal drug pipeline by requiring electronic security data on all packages shipped through foreign mail. The legislation has 25 co-sponsors in the Senate and 235 in the House of Representatives. One of West Virginia’s two U.S. Senators, Shelley Moore Capito, and Representatives David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins have all signed onto the bill.
This is a common-sense solution to protect the American people, and it addresses at least some of the dangers our first responders and others face when dealing with this epidemic. That’s why those on the front lines of the crisis support the STOP Act, which is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the American Medical Association.
We owe it to law enforcement and to the American people to do everything we can to keep these poisons off our streets. We won’t stop reading headlines of tragic fentanyl deaths or of local first responders harmed by these drugs until we take action to keep synthetic opioids out of our country in the first place.
With so many voices from coast to coast speaking out, there’s no excuse — let’s close this loophole, shut down the postal drug pipeline, help save West Virginia lives and support our police and first responders.
Tom Ridge was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, and is a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition dedicated to closing the loophole in the global postal system.
Good morning all,
Sidebar: Tom Ridge is a Vietnam Veteran; 23rd Inf Div (Americal Div). He is identified with the word "integrity".
I take full note that the Secretary's article says the opioid epidemic is our lead danger.
How the Hades do we respond to OD cases ?! The Ridge view to cut off the supplies from entering the nation via the USPS is the best route - and do note: a cheap method, relatively speaking.
Foot Note: Am asking my Virginia Senators and MC to support the loophole closure.
Hurricane Alley, Virginia
Vietnam Veteran; fought in Tet Offensive