Congressman Evan Jenkins hosted a roundtable in Charleston yesterday focused on the federal response to fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic opioids that are flooding the Appalachian region. Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids on the streets today. Just 3 milligrams of the drug can kill an adult male compared to about 30 milligrams of heroin.
The roundtable was attended by representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security as well as representatives from the state and local level.
Representatives spoke about the challenges of tracking, monitoring and preventing fentanyl from entering the local markets.
“This stuff is coming in directly into the communities,” said Bruce Ohr, associate deputy attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“They are using the mails, they’re using FedEx, DHL, all the private express mail services,” said Ohr. “So it’s very difficult for us to stop it...it can be multiple people so our guys really have to shift and become street agents, they have to be able to become cyber agents to really trace this stuff back to the source.”
David Abbate, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said most of the Fentanyl they are seeing is coming in from China.
“We work quite a bit with our partners in customs and border protection that man those facilities. We work with DEA, we work with National Parcel Service.”
Ohr said it’s not just that Fentanyl is flooding the markets, but that oversees suppliers are making new varieties as fast as the Drug Enforcement Agency can make them illegal.
“We need to get ahead of this somehow because we can’t always be chasing something that’s not illegal - particularly in China - they’ve got to make all of this illegal. We’ve got to make all of the Fentanyls illegal,” Ohr said.
Officials said until they get a handle on cutting the flow of fentanyl and similar synthetic knock-offs, the number of overdoses in the region is likely to continue to rise.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.