War on fentanyl requires united multifront attack


Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich did not mince words earlier this week when signing into law legislation designed to lessen the horrific pain and suffering inflicted by the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

“It ain’t the way it used to be with street drugs,” Kasich said bluntly about purchasing heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines or other drugs laced with fentanyl.

“You’re playing with the devil,” he added.

The governor’s demonic metaphor is hardly hyperbole.

Fentanyl, after all, packs a wickedly powerful punch, weighing in at 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.

FENTANYL DEATHS ON THE RISE

And though deaths from opiate painkilling pills and pure heroin have declined in the past two years, deaths from fentanyl and drug cocktails laced with fentanyl continue to spike.

Indeed, Ohio has become a national leader in the abuse of fentanyl. In some counties, 80 percent or more of overdose deaths are showing traces of the synthetic drug most commonly manufactured in China.

In the Mahoning Valley, a new variety of fentanyl has been cited as one reason behind a nearly three-fold spike in overdose deaths in Trumbull County last month. The July death toll rose to 11 from a monthly average of only four during the first half of this year.

What’s more, given that fentanyl is deadly after ingesting only two milligrams – equivalent to a few grains of salt – it’s not surprising that as its popularity increases, so, too, does its grisly casualty toll.

That’s why Ohio state legislators and the governor acted wisely to increase penalties for those dealing in fentanyl, or as Kasich aptly calls them, “the merchants of death.”

Senate Bill 1 that the governor signed this week contains several promising provisions aimed at lessening the ferocity of the fentanyl scourge in the Buckeye States.

They include labeling fentanyl as one of the state’s most dangerous drugs and stiffening penalties for those who sell it, up to and including mandatory prison sentences of three to eight years for certain offenders.

The new law also has a compassionate edge in requiring treatment be made available to those suffering from addiction at the time of sentencing.

ON SUPPLY SIDE, STOP NEEDED

For all of its promise in stiffening penalties for those who traffic in fentanyl, Senate Bill 1, however, cannot be considered any panacea in cleaning the state of this dangerous drug and the carnage it produces.

Measures to choke off the supply of fentanyl into our communities are desperately needed as well.

That’s where legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, and co-sponsored by Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, would come in mighty handy.

Portman’s STOP [Synthetic Trafficking & Overdose Prevention] Act would require the U.S. Postal Service – the delivery service of choice for illicit drug smugglers from China and elsewhere overseas – to use the same technologically-advanced system as private companies to detect and confiscate the drug before it reaches the streets of the Ohio and the Mahoning Valley.

Unfortunately, this common-sense bill has languished in committee for more than a year now even though it easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June by a 353-52 bipartisan vote.

Once senators reconvene at the Capitol this fall, STOP deserves to move on the fast track toward passage and enactment.

Cutting off the supply of fentanyl as the federal legislation aims to do and discouraging its demand as the new state law seeks to achieve are two potentially productive tools to begin to stanch the flow of evil oozing from this hellish epidemic.

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