Across the country, state and local governments have taken steps to make sure that drug companies, doctors, and other health care professionals provide a safe and proper delivery of prescription opioids. While this is an important step in curbing the opioid epidemic, we must also acknowledge that this is a complex challenge.
Opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota last year fell for the first time in nearly a decade. Between 2017 and 2018 there was a 22% decrease in prescription opioid-related deaths. Minnesota health care providers wrote 41 opioid prescriptions per 100 patients, a promising difference from the national average of nearly 59 per 100 patients.
Unfortunately, synthetic opioid related deaths increased by 6% during the same timeframe. Of those deaths, nearly all of them involved an extremely dangerous drug called fentanyl.
Fentanyl is an addictive pain management drug that is more than 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Federal, state and local law enforcement is doing everything they can to fight the spread of fentanyl. Yet, the drug is still being found across Minnesota communities.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has identified China as the primary source of illicit fentanyl in America. Chinese drug manufacturers ship it through the mail straight to online buyers in the US or to drug cartels in Mexico so they can smuggle it across the border.
In 2016, Border Patrol agents stopped 458 pounds of fentanyl from coming into the country. In 2018, the quantity increased to 1,804 pounds.
Border patrol and ICE agents are doing all they can to curb the flow of illicit drugs coming across the border, but we also need to focus on the local law enforcement that is responsible for taking these drugs off the streets every day.
Every day, more than 130 Americans die from opioid-related overdoses. Recently, border protection agents made the biggest seizure of fentanyl to date, stopping 254 pounds from entering the country. That amount of fentanyl could have killed over 57 million people.
Legislators in St. Paul and Washington must understand that we need to fight this head on with proper funding to those on the frontlines. The men and women who risk their lives every day deserve to be armed with every tool necessary to keep themselves and our communities safe.
Legislation to decrease the amount of illicit prescription opioids in our communities is not enough to significantly reduce the number of Americans dying from fentanyl and illicit opioids. It is time to turn our attention and funding to equipping law enforcement agencies with the proper technology that will detect fentanyl at our borders.
If we really plan to bring an end to the ever-changing opioid epidemic, there must be action behind our words. Border patrol and international mail security funding should be a top priority for our lawmakers, who have promised to do everything in their power to keep our people safe.
I see this issue firsthand daily, and I realize how serious it is. It is a public safety crisis. It is a matter of life or death.