ABC7 NEWS, HEALTHER GRAF
In recent months, 7News has been tracking an increase in fentanyl-related overdoses, along with the local and national response to that concerning trend.
On Wednesday, we spoke to Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger about legislation she introduced that aims to detect and deter illicit fentanyl trafficking at the nation’s borders and ports of entry. The bill, called The Securing America’s Borders Against Fentanyl Act, was recently signed into law by President Biden as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
“Time and time again, I have spoken to families who have lost loved ones because they have taken a drug laced with fentanyl, and the potency of that is far beyond what they anticipated and proves to be lethal,” said Spanberger, (D-Virginia, 7th District). “And that is why we need to aggressively go after and aggressively work to interdict the trafficking of fentanyl into the United States.”
“I’m a former CIA officer, and I used to track transnational criminal organizations through Central America, and I know that one of their main money-making efforts is the trafficking of narcotics throughout the world and predominantly to the United States. I’m also a former federal agent and I used to work drug trafficking cases,” she said. “So building on that experience is the fact that I know law enforcement can do what they’re able to do with the technology and equipment that they have.”
She feels fentanyl is presenting law enforcement agencies with a unique challenge, particularly along the U.S. southern border.
“Fentanyl is so potent that small amounts of fentanyl can be transported, concealed in trucks and in concealment devices coming through ports of entry, and our border patrol agents are not necessarily able to detect it,” Spanberger said. “The technology is just not at the level across all of our ports of entry that we need it to be.”
She says The Securing America’s Borders Against Fentanyl Act would help address that issue by putting requirements in place regarding the development of new technology designed to stop illicit fentanyl before it comes into the U.S.
“This legislation is pretty straight forward. It would require DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, to work with other federal agencies to research and develop technologies and strategies to be able to target and detect trafficking and concealment devices that might be used to push fentanyl and its precursor chemicals across the border, predominantly through ports of entry,” Spanberger said.
So how soon could those new technologies be deployed?
Spanberger acknowledged it will take some time, but she believes this is an important step in the fight against fentanyl.
“This coordination and research will take some time, but now the mandate is there and the support is there for them to do it,” she said. “Certainly people talk about the challenge of fentanyl, but getting at the problem is significant. We know what the problem is when it ends up in our communities and people are dying, young people are dying because they’re taking drugs laced with fentanyl. But stopping it comes many, many steps before. And that requires that those charged with and committed to doing interdictions at our points of entry, scanning vehicles coming through… that those folks need the most up-to-date technologies to be able to go after the most up-to-date threats.”
Spanberger said the omnibus spending bill that’s expected to soon be signed by President Biden provides additional funding to support that DHS development of new technologies.
“When we look at the threat of fentanyl, highly concentrated, highly lethal, but very easy to hide and conceal, it becomes an issue of our law enforcement entities needing additional support,” she said, adding that bipartisan support of this legislation speaks to the scope of the fentanyl problem. “Just about every family in the United States is impacted by substance use disorder or knows someone who is.”
Just a few weeks ago, Prince William County Police issued a warning after three teens overdosed in a five-day period. Police said one of those overdoses was fatal, and all three are believed to have been caused by counterfeit Percocet pills that were laced with Fentanyl.
The teen who died was just 17 years old.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this country and is 50 times more potent than heroin. In 2022, the DEA says it seized more than 50 million fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.
The DEA recently put out an alert about a “sharp nationwide increase” in the lethality of those counterfeit pills laced with Fentanyl, saying DEA lab testing revealed six out of ten of those pills contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.