EDITORIAL: Going after the source of fentanyl

York Dispatch editorial board

In 2014, there were no deaths in York County that involved fentanyl.

In 2018, there were 129.

York County has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, and the introduction of the synthetic drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine has ratcheted up the stakes. 

That's one reason Sen. Pat Toomey's new bill to ensure consequences for nations where fentanyl is illicitly produced needs to get on the books as quickly as possible.

More:In York County, Toomey talks new bill to crack down on fentanyl producers

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The bill from the Pennsylvania Republican would let the government gather information about illicit fentanyl production in foreign countries and cut off foreign aid and Export-Import Bank loans for countries that illegally produce the drug.

The exceptions are for countries that have emergency scheduling procedures for new illicit drugs, prosecute criminals for the manufacturing or distribution of the drugs and require the registration of machines that make tablets and capsules.

Sen. Mike Regan (R-PA) left, looks on as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) discusses the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act at the York County Administrative Building in York City, Thursday, March 21, 2019. The bipartisan legislation would hold fentanyl-producing nations accountable for their compliance with United States fentanyl-related drug enforcement. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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.

Data from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol shows that China is the main source of fentanyl, and in June 2018 the CBP seized 110 pounds of the drug — worth $1.7 million on the streets — from China at the Port of Philadelphia. 

In January, officers at the border crossing in Nogales, Arizona, found 254 pounds of fentanyl, more than $3 million in value, being smuggled across the border along with 395 pounds of methamphetamine in a produce truck, the largest seizure of the drug in this country.

This is a smart way to address the problem of illegal drugs coming into our country, by putting some of the impetus on countries where those drugs are manufactured.

It's certainly a better strategy than pouring billions of dollars into a border wall when the vast majority of illegal drugs that are seized are coming in through legal ports of entry.

About 2 to 3 milligrams of fentanyl, visually similar to 5 to 7 individual grains of table salt, are enough to cause a potentially fatal overdose. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent. (Drug Enforcement Administration/TNS)

There are the websites that allow people to order fentanyl through the mail, and President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the International Postal Union has made it more difficult for Washington to push for better control of international mail, which in turn would make shipping fentanyl more risky, according to Foreign Affairs.

In December, Trump announced during the G-20 summit that China will tighten its controls over the manufacture of fentanyl, which is purely chemical and therefore easy to make.

But China has more than 400,000 chemical manufacturers, and its regulatory system just can't keep up. 

Toomey's bill would force China and Mexico, the second greatest source of fentanyl, to take more responsibility for the chemical manufacture of the highly potent and deadly drug.

The bipartisan support for the bill is just an added bonus.

While previous versions of this legislation haven't made it out of the Senate Foreign relations Committee, we hope that this is the one that will complete the process and become law.

With the number of overdoses continuing to rise, there's no time to waste.