Culpeper Star-Exponent: Quickly identifying fentanyl: measure would give local access to mobile screeners

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT

In the ongoing fight against deadly fentanyl, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, last week joined Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce and U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) in a measure that would provide state and local law enforcement with new devices to instantly detect and identify dangerous drugs.

The Providing Officers with Electronic Resources (POWER) Act would establish a new Dept. of Justice grant for high-tech, portable screening devices, already in use by federal law enforcement to identify illicit drugs at U.S. ports of entry.

The devices use laser technology and a digital library of compounds to analyze potentially harmful substances, in some cases, through the packaging, according to May 9 release from the local congresswoman’s office.

“As a former federal agent and CIA case officer who worked narcotics cases and tracked cartels, I recognize the severity of the fentanyl crisis in our communities. And recently, I’ve heard directly from police departments in Virginia that are increasingly encountering this substance while on the job,” said Spanberger.

“That’s why I’m proud to help lead the bipartisan POWER Act. By making sure law enforcement officers have the resources and training they need, we can quickly identify when fentanyl enters an area, warn our neighbors, and build a response plan. Additionally, we can protect the lives of the men and women who keep our communities safe every day.”

Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans 18 to 45 years old, said Joyce. Law enforcement officers are on the frontlines of efforts to combat illegal fentanyl, said Brown.

“Fentanyl has infected every state, and every police force needs the tools to defend against this drug of mass destruction,” said Cotton. “Our bill would give local and state police the same equipment that federal law enforcement already uses to detect fentanyl in the field. Identifying the drug so quickly allows officers to act faster and with greater certainty, whether to protect themselves and their communities or to bring traffickers to justice.”

The devices secured through this bill would also help address the backlog of drugs awaiting laboratory identification, which would allow law enforcement to more effectively conduct drug investigations and prosecutions and crack down on drug trafficking. Without these devices, suspected drugs are sent to labs for testing — which can take months in some cases, delaying potential prosecution, according to the release. Use of all devices would be subject to 4th amendment restrictions on unlawful searches and seizures, and other privacy laws.

Additionally, the instant results made possible through Spanberger’s POWER Act would allow officers to quickly alert local health departments when fentanyl is found in a community — so they can notify known users and help prevent overdoses, according to the release.

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