After an election marked by bitter division and conflict, all citizens of good will are likely anxious for the next administration to turn to the real issues affecting our country and its communities. Realistic citizens know President-elect Trump can't fix every problem quickly. But when it comes to taking action on the opioid crisis, which kills an astonishing 78 Americans every day, there are concrete steps with bipartisan support that the president can and should take from his first day in office.
The grim news of the opioid epidemic accelerates, thanks to the astonishing ease of purchase and delivery from overseas. In September, two 13-year-old boys in the same resort town in Utah died from overdoses of "pink," a synthetic drug eight times more powerful than heroin. Formally known as U-47700, the drug can be legally ordered online in 46 of 50 states and delivered from China, via the U.S. Postal Service right to your mailbox (I just did a Google search and up popped Ching Labs, happy to send me 2 grams for $70). Last month, a Michigan teenager overdosed and died of "pink" delivered by mail from China.
It almost seems like a race is on to see which overseas labs can produce the most potent - and deadly - opioids. In recent weeks we've learned that carfentanil, used to sedate elephants, is entering the U.S. from China and contributing to a rising number of fatal overdoses. According to an article in Scientific American, carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, the drug that musician Prince overdosed on this spring. Carfentanil is so powerful that it is considered a chemical weapon, banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the U.S. State Department has raised the issue with its Chinese counterparts. And yet there are still easily accessible ways to send the drug to families and communities across the country. The Associated Press recently found that to improve transport reliability, Chinese suppliers were using EMS, their state-owned express and logistics company, to send the drugs; a representative of Yuntu Chemical Co. in China wrote in an email that EMS was a bit slower than FedEx or DHL, but had a "99% pass rate."
So it's time, past time, for action. As soon as Mr. Trump is sworn in on January 20, he should take three steps. First, he must close the loophole that allows foreign postal services, such as those from China, to deliver packages without the advance electronic security data that other shippers, like FedEx and UPS, must provide. Law enforcement - including Customs and Border Protection - needs this data to know when, where and how deadly synthetic drugs are entering the country. This loophole therefore creates an easy superhighway for overseas opioids to enter the United States - along with other dangerous items, including weapons and explosives that could be used by terrorists. The president can and should close this loophole by executive action - no need to wait for Congress. President-elect Trump has already demonstrated that he recognizes this loophole's significance and tragic impact by speaking of it on the campaign trail, and his released plan of action on the opiate crisis listed closing the loophole as one of its four main actions.
Second, Mr. Trump should begin to deliver on his campaign promises about providing much needed help for those struggling with addiction. He has, for example, spoken clearly about the need to provide first responders with access to naloxone, the drug that is able to reverse opiate overdoses and is responsible for almost-daily headlines on lifesaving rescues. And he has promised to expand access to addiction treatment, which would shift the focus on this deadly disease away from shame and punishment and towards hope for recovery.
Third, the new President should meet with Congressional leaders and urge passage of the bill sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (S. 524, with a bipartisan companion bill in the House), that would, among other measures, close the USPS loophole described above. This would be a "belt and suspenders" approach, with action from the executive and the legislative branches. In this case, with so many lives at risk, and when a truly bipartisan solution exists, being redundant is a good thing. Without cutting off the source of deadly drugs, other efforts to stem the crisis, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot be successful.