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U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey stopped by York County to advertise his recent legislation that would allow the U.S. to cut some ties with foreign countries that illicitly produce fentanyl if they don't follow its anti-narcotics efforts.

The Pennsylvania Republican stood among county officials and police officers Thursday, March 21, in the York County Commission meeting room, voicing his hopes to advance the bill after previous versions failed to make it beyond the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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"The introduction of this synthetic opioid has taken this crisis to a whole new level of lethality," Toomey said. "It has made it even more devastating than it was before .... Cooperation with other governments is extremely important if we're going to be successful in shutting down the supply."

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The bill: If passed, the bill would have the government gather information about illicit fentanyl production in foreign countries and cut off any nation that unlawfully produces the drug from taxpayer-subsidized foreign aid and Export-Import Bank loans unless:

  • The country has emergency scheduling procedures for new illicit drugs.
  • The county can prosecute criminals for the manufacturing or distribution of controlled substance analogues. 
  • The country requires the registration of tableting machines and encapsulating machines.

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., is co-sponsoring the bill. A partner bill is also in the House, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and co-sponsored by six others including Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster County.

These standards already apply under the Foreign Assistance Act to countries the U.S. has identified as major producers of drugs including heroin, cocaine and marijuana. The bill would add fentanyl to the list.

Just last year, U.S. Customs and Border Control seized 110 pounds of fentanyl — worth $1.7 million — from China at the Port of Philadelphia. CBP data shows China is the main source of the drug.

Local fentanyl: And the presence of the drug is well-known in York County, said District Attorney Dave Sunday. There were 144 opioid-related deaths in the county in 2018, 129 of which involved fentanyl. Just four years earlier, there were no deaths involving the drug.

"Fentanyl has absolutely decimated our resources locally," Sunday said. "It's decimated them in some ways that aren't quantifiable. It has put us in the position where every single day we ask, 'What can we do to fight this in every way possible?'"

Sunday commended Toomey's efforts, which the senator said he expects will face little resistance in Congress. But Sunday also drew attention to state Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg.

Earlier this year, Regan introduced bipartisan legislation imposing stiff mandatory minimums on those indicted on fentanyl-related charges, a move that he says will target dealers and help address the epidemic. The bill sits in the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

If passed, someone caught with the drug could face a mandatory minimum of up to 96 months in prison and a $25,000 fine, depending on the quantity.

"This has reached the point where it's claiming far too many lives," Regan said. "We can't mess around with this anymore."

Editor's note: This story has been revised to correct the value of the fentanyl seized last year at the Port of Philadelphia to $1.7 million.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

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