US needs to work with China, Mexico 'much more aggressively' to stop fentanyl flow: Portman on opioid crisis

Portman: China is shipping opioids via USPS

Sen. Rob Portman weighs in on the opioid crisis and fentanyl coming into the U.S. from China.

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EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is vowing to keep the pressure on the Biden administration to address the opioid crisis head-on by working more aggressively with Mexico and China to stop drug trafficking, and by urging a greater awareness campaign by the federal government about fentanyl-laced "fake pills," which are killing Americans at record rates.

The U.S. surpassed 100,000 overdose deaths in one year between April 2020 and April 2021, marking a terrible new milestone in American history. In addition, in October alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported a 42% increase in the seizure of the most deadly opioid, fentanyl.

The Biden administration has come under criticism by Portman, and other lawmakers, for seemingly putting the opioid crisis on the back burner during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the staggering number of overdose deaths.

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In an exclusive interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Portman said. "When you have a hundred thousand deaths, there's a lot of other collateral damage. It's not about people dying,but it's about people losing their way in life."

Portman, who has been leading the charge in Congress against the opioid crisis for decades, stressed the importance of a three-pronged approach to tackling the epidemic that the Biden administration should immediately begin implementing: stopping supply into the U.S. through the border, prevention, including ramping up awareness campaigns, and treatment and recovery efforts.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, questions Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Bill Clark/Pool via AP) ((Bill Clark/Pool via AP))

The senator explained that previously, China would send fentanyl into the U.S. directly through the mail, but after the passage of the bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act in 2018, which increased drug detection methods, the country has scaled back that method of entry and is now sending fentanyl precursors into Mexico and India to be developed and then trafficked into the U.S.

"So [the Biden administration] have got to tighten it up, and that means working with China, working with Mexico much more aggressively and tightening of the border," continued Portman. "And I think they should do a huge prevention campaign."

Portman said the discussion on stopping the flow of fentanyl, "ought to be at the top of the list during any bilateral discussions" since the U.S. knows China is still sending illegal fentanyl still into the United States and giving the chemical ingredients to Mexico to manufacture the drugs.

"The point I would make to the Chinese officials is…'you're killing my constituents,'" continued Portman.

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The Ohio senator also told Fox News that his office is planning to look into social media sites, such as Snapchat and others, that are providing platforms for Americans to purchase "fake pills" containing fentanyl, which are deadly and becoming more widespread.

"Mexico is making [fentanyl] into different products, often pressing it into pills, fake pills, which is just a tragedy. People will be taking a pill that they think is a Xanaxor a Percocet and in fact it's fentanyl, or it is laced with fentanyl, and they die. And they didn't mean to take fentanyl," said Portman.

The senator said it could be an opportunity for those social media sites to provide information and awareness to individuals about the dangers of purchasing pills that do not come directly from a pharmacy.

For the first time in six year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a public safety alert on the dangers of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl. The announcement came after more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized by the DEA in 2021, which is more than 2020 and 2019 combined.

"DEA’s Public Safety Alert, the first in six years, seeks to raise public awareness of a significant nationwide surge in counterfeit pills that are mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate" the announcement from Sept. 27 stated.

A family-run nonprofit started by Mary and Ed Ternan, Song for Charlie, is devoted to raising awareness about fake "fentapills" after the death of their college senior son, Charlie, who bought a fake Percocet pill online in 2020 and tragically died.

Portman told Fox News that one Ohio mother, Virginia Krieger, similarly lost her 26-year-old daughter, Tiffany, to an accidental overdose death. Tiffany also bought a fake Percocet pill and unintentionally overdosed because it was laced with fentanyl and heroin, Portman said.

The senator has previously said that "no one should ever take a pill unless they know it comes from a pharmacy," and is urging the Biden administration to work with the private sector and large pharmaceutical companies to start a bigger awareness campaign about the dangers of fake pills, especially for teens and college students.

In November, Biden marked the 100,000 overdose death mark by saying his administration is committed to addressing addiction and ending the drug epidemic.

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"We’re working to make health coverage more accessible and affordable for all Americans, so that more people who need care can get it. We are strengthening prevention, promoting harm reduction, expanding treatment, and supporting people in recovery, as well as reducing the supply of harmful substances in our communities. And we won’t let up," said Biden in a written statement last month.

A heroin fake pill recovered by the DEA.

A heroin fake pill recovered by the DEA. (DEA )

However, despite Biden's pledge to reduce the supply of opioids in the U.S., Portman said that the Biden administration could work more closely with his office and others on Capitol Hill on the many bills they have prepared to make fentanyl illegal, by permanently scheduling the drug and its analogues as a Schedule I substance. The senator said the administration keeps kicking the permanent scheduling down the road, which makes it harder for law enforcement to do their jobs.

The temporary scheduling of all fentanyl-related substances, which was a policy enacted under the Trump administration, expires on Jan. 28, 2022.

Kelly Laco Fox News