WASHINGTON – Last month, President Trump brought national attention to an issue affecting West Virginia more than any other state – the fentanyl and opioid crisis. By declaring a public health emergency, new resources and support will be coming to West Virginia to help stop drug trafficking and expand treatment for people struggling with addiction.
Fentanyl is an epidemic within an epidemic. It’s smuggled into this country through mail from China. It is used to cut heroin and make batches of heroin more potent – and deadly. Just a few micrograms can be enough to kill, and it is killing thousands of people across this country.
Combating the drug crisis is one of my top priorities in Congress, and I am working every day to pass solutions to help our state stop the scourge of heroin, fentanyl and opioids. Not a day goes by that I am not fighting for legislation, funding, or resources to make sure that those who are on the front lines have what they need to get our state healthy again.
I recently brought together federal, state, and local agencies to focus on fentanyl trafficking and how this drug is coming into the United States from China and Mexico. I also invited people in recovery to share their personal experiences with addiction and how we can help others.
Three women stood up and shared their stories of recovery. The unique perspectives from these women show why we are working to increase resources for those seeking treatment and to stop these drugs from coming into our neighborhoods. One woman told the story of her addiction and struggles and how she thanks the judge that put her into treatment because she is now in recovery and living a healthy life.
I also heard from Drug Enforcement Administration agents on the ground, West Virginia’s new director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, local emergency responders, and academics.
The conversation quickly focused on the unique challenges that fentanyl presents for law enforcement. Anyone can get online and illegally purchase fentanyl which can then be shipped to someone’s front door.
We need a multifaceted approach of tracking mail packages, retracing internet activity and purchases of known drug dealers, and working with international partners to stop the producers of fentanyl. In one case, law enforcement tracked a dealer in multiple cities in the United States, and ultimately to a person in China making and selling fentanyl over the internet.
One of the key points these experts made to me was the importance of a comprehensive, government-wide task force mandated in law focusing on stopping fentanyl trafficking and working with state and local law enforcement. Thanks to their feedback and suggestions, I have introduced the Fentanyl and Heroin Task Force Act.
This legislation creates an interagency task force to coordinate federal agency efforts to identify, target and dismantle organizations that traffic fentanyl, as well as identify the sources of fentanyl and heroin production and distribution. In addition, the task force will work with state and local law enforcement agencies to make sure they have the best practices for handling and disposing of fentanyl and are taking down organizations that traffic fentanyl and heroin. Some of the agencies that will be involved are the DEA, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Earlier this year, I voted to give the DEA the resources they need to create new enforcement teams focused on eradicating illicit fentanyl and heroin. And just last week, the DEA announced that it will be locating one of those enforcement teams in Charleston. Additionally, I have worked with my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to provide billions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic, and I will continue to be a leader in Congress to make sure West Virginia receives the funding we need to make a difference.
West Virginia may be the state hardest hit by the opioid crisis, but we aren’t giving up. We are leading the way in innovating new treatment responses and specialized care. In Huntington, the city is launching rapid response teams to ensure people who have recently overdosed receive follow-up care and options to enter rehab. We also have Lily’s Place, a world-class facility that treats newborns born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, exposure to opioids and other drugs during pregnancy.
We are not letting up; we know we still have a great deal of work ahead of us to battle this great public health and safety issue. It will take all of us working together to make a difference, but I am confident that we can fight back – and save lives.
Jenkins is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from West Virginia's Third Congressional District.