By now I hope most Idahoans have become aware of the immense tragedy that opioid abuse has brought to much of America, particularly east of the Mississippi River. Tens of thousands of people have died over the past five to seven years by taking illegally obtained prescription drugs that should be taken only by those suffering severe, chronic pain.
In Idaho, we thankfully have avoided similar fates suffered by West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, to name a few. But the epidemic has touched Idaho, and in 2017 at least 116 people died from opioid overdoses, up from just 44 in 2007.
The Idaho Legislature has done much working together with stakeholders in communities, such as doctors, law enforcement and where possible the federal government, to reduce and eliminate wrongfully prescribed legal pain medications.
I’m pleased that Gov. Brad Little recently signed into law House Bill 12, which will make public access easier to the drug naloxone, which can save the life of someone during an opioid overdose, hopefully bringing the number of deaths down as a result.
But while great success has been made in this area, there’s a new and grave threat we are now confronting: the synthetic opioid drug called fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a drug few had heard of even three years ago. It is so potent that even a few grains the size of rice can kill someone. It is almost never prescribed by doctors in this country, but our communities are now in danger of being flooded with fentanyl being manufactured in China and smuggled across our borders, especially with the help of Mexican drug cartels.
Just last month a record 254 pounds of fentanyl was seized during a smuggling attempt in Arizona.
The solution to this problem lies with Congress. Last year President Trump signed the largest opioid assistance package into law than any before it. Called the STOP Act, this bill will provide new tools and funding to help fight opioid addiction, but it doesn’t do enough to fight fentanyl.
Congress needs to quickly consider and pass the SOFA legislation that was left undone in 2018. The SOFA Act will allow the DEA to reclassify fentanyl and any similar new synthetic opioids that appear, closing a huge loophole in this fight.
The Idaho Legislature has already acted to assist this effort by passing House Bill 11 a month ago. This new law specifically and immediately reclassified fentanyl and its related synthetic opioids as controlled substances.
But Congress needs to block the smuggling of these drugs at our borders and it needs new tools to charge and convict the cartel bosses who traffic in this drug that the SOFA Act would provide.
I urge Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, to join with their colleagues to quickly pass the SOFA Act in Congress.
Sen. Chuck Winder is a Republican who represents District 20 in the Idaho Senate.