Over the last decade, there has been a surge in opioid overdose among the people of the US. Such overdoses are caused by opium derivatives such as morphine and heroin. However, the largest opioid to be reported in cases of overdose is fentanyl.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an opioid which has two main medicinal uses. Firstly, it can be used as an anesthetic prior to surgical procedures, this is because the drug has a high potency (something we’ll talk about later) and secondly the effects don’t last very long (one to two hours maximum). The second medicinal application involves pain relief. The opioid can be delivered via multiple mediums such as Intravenous (injecting into the bloodstream), Durogesic (patches through which skin can absorb Fentanyl), Intranasal (snorted via the nose) and it can also be orally consumed.
What is the legal status of Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a Schedule II drug in the USA. Which means that due to its medicinal applications it can be purchased, the condition being a written prescription from a medical practitioner. Refills for the prescription of Schedule II drugs are not allowed. However, 3 prescriptions for the drugs can be written in advance for a ninety-day dose supply.
How does Fentanyl pose a problem?
Being an opioid, Fentanyl can cause euphoria, which can lead it to be abused, it should be noted that unlike other euphoria-inducing drugs can be fatal at doses as low as 2 micrograms. 2017 recorded 19,000 deaths caused by Fentanyl overdose. Another alarming statistic is that Fentanyl involves the age group affected by Fentanyl use. Overdose deaths are mostly recorded in teenagers. In the past, teenagers did use the opioid, however, they mostly did it by sneaking out their parent’s prescription painkillers. These days the severity of the issue has heightened, provided the fact that the drug is coming in through land borders via Mexico and Canada.
The highly addictive nature of Fentanyl also leads to its utilization by drug dealers who mix it with other opioids such as cocaine, morphine, and heroin. This ensures that the people who buy and abuse opioids continue to do so. If the users are unaware of this it may lead to overdose and even problems during the rehabilitation process, if the drug user ever starts one.
The quantity of the drug so small that traditional drug detection methods, and even when caught has led to the deaths of a lot of K-9 drug detection dogs. Overdose reports in officers also led to the DEA issuing instructions to send all Fentanyl suspected powders to a drug lab instead of utilizing a drug detection kit. There are also requirements in certain states for officers to have extra protective equipment including but not limited to suits, hand sanitizers, gloves and goggles.
An interdict is an abbreviation, its full form being International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology. To understand why this bill is a necessity we need to understand the concept of how Fentanyl illegally comes into the country.
The drug produced in China and Mexico comes in mainly through the land borders of the United States. It can be carried by visitors but there are many cases in which the drug was smuggled in postage packages. On the border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is charged with the duty of checking incoming packages and visitors. However, as mentioned above, due to the high potency of the drug it is usually carried in small amounts and is not detected by the traditional security methods. Even when detected it has to be sent to a lab where it takes a lot of time for the results of the tests to be processed. Test kits that serve on the scene, can yield inaccurate results or might even pose a threat to the safety of the CBP staff, the reason being the extremely small (2mg) overdose amount of the drug.
There is a solution to this problem, there are handheld devices being developed which utilize lasers to check and see if the sample is an illicit narcotic substance. The devices yield results quickly (within 90 seconds) and can be reused unlike the test kits traditionally used by law enforcement officers checking for drugs. There are a lot of countries around the world that utilize these devices in the identification of substances. The quick results make it easy to apprehend suspected smugglers and suspicious packages. The sample of the substances can then be sent to labs which can come up with comprehensive reports for utilization in court proceedings.
The accuracy and sensitivity of these devices are also quite impressive, and the results are considered by the legal system to be stronger than traditional test kits. The devices are easy to use and can be used by someone who doesn’t have a lot of technical knowledge about chemical spectroscopy (identification).
The device is able to detect mixtures of illicit substances and can find traces of Fentanyl in samples of other opioids such as heroin, cocaine and morphine.
Coming back to the Interdict Bill, it allows $9 million to border law enforcement. In order to equip officers with drug testing devices (a single unit is priced at about $21,000) so that they can quickly and accurately check incoming packages, travelers and mail. The president highlighted the importance of the bill by saying
“It is a significant step forward”
He also emphasized upon the consequences of the drug and the method it is being smuggled through:
“They’re using our postal system and they’re killing our people”
“We need Customs and Border Protection”
The bill had landslide support in both the Congress and the Senate. Getting 412 votes for and 3 against in Congress, while securing a unanimous adoption in the Senate. Massachusetts Senator (Dem.) Edward Markey who was a bill sponsor said that most (80% to 90%) of the illicit substances were originating from China. While Wisconsin Senator (Rep.) Ron Johnson said to President Trump:
”This is why people elected you”