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Shifting to a new phase in fight against opioids

By Rep. Sal Santoro

Guest Columnist

Last summer, a Laurel Sheriff’s Office deputy noticed a white substance in the back seat of his cruiser. He had busted a drug peddler and transported the criminal to jail. Within minutes of exposure to the powder, the deputy became lightheaded and dizzy.

A field test of the substance determined it was fentanyl.

Stories like this are becoming more and more common. The scary new reality is that law enforcement and innocent bystanders are being exposed to extremely dangerous substances.

It is scary enough that anybody can be exposed to these poisons. That alarm is elevated when you read headlines like “Mother shocked as Task Force recovers enough fentanyl to kill 32,000 people.”

That is enough fentanyl to wipe out every man, woman and child living in Carter County.

What is worrisome about fentanyl and other illicit drugs is that they are showing up in our communities, and it seems impossible for local law enforcement to stop it. The reason our locals have nary a chance of stopping these drugs is that their origins are far away from Kentucky.

According to statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 80 percent of fentanyl seized along the border in the first 11 months of the 2018 fiscal year was caught in attempted smugglings at legal crossing points. If you think that we are detecting anywhere near the actual amount of these drugs coming through our southern border, and even a fraction of what goes around our other entries, I have oceanfront property here in Kentucky for you.

While what is originating in Mexico is bad, the substances coming from China are even worse. Chinese drug smugglers have been hiding fentanyl and other deadly drugs by disguising them as pills many Americans use daily.

These cartels and smugglers are using our ports, our borders and our postal system as the entry point to kill our people here in America.

The human toll has hit our region particularly hard. Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia had eight of the ten counties with the highest annual rate of synthetic opioid death from 2013-2018.

We must evolve to the current threats, and that means shifting our focus from prescriptions to synthetic opioids. It means focusing on ending their importation at our ports of entry. Federal officials need to ensure state and local law enforcement and health officials are getting the resources they need for the frontline battle. At the same time, they must beef up detection efforts and lean on the Chinese to follow through on recent promises to ban production and shut down the bad actor labs that are producing and exporting fentanyl.

The opioid epidemic in America is complex and chilling. We must shift to this new phase in the fight. The consequences are grave if we do not.

Sal Santoro represents Kentucky State House District 60. He lives in Florence and is a former Kentucky State trooper.