The opioid epidemic is an escalating crisis for Hoosiers and all Americans. Overdoses have been rising at alarming rates in recent years, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.
Contributing to this toll is the influx of deadly synthetic opioids, fentanyl and carfentanil, which are even more potent than heroin.
While we have made some significant steps forward in our efforts to tackle this epidemic, there is still much more work to do.
Last year, I helped enact the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which expanded access to prevention, treatment and recovery services and the 21st Century Cures Act, which provided funding to every state in America to increase treatment availability.
I was proud to support these efforts, which together brought more than $11 million to Indiana in 2017 in addition to millions of dollars in other federal grant funding.
I am continuing to look for ways the federal government can effectively assist states and local communities in confronting this epidemic. To that end, I have proposed legislation in the Senate this year with my colleague, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would help address the shortage of addiction treatment providers and another package of bipartisan bills that seek to expand addiction treatment services in rural areas.
I recently met with law enforcement leaders in Northwest Indiana, who are members of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Executive Board. HIDTA is a federal program that brings together law enforcement agencies to combat drug trafficking. In Indiana, Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Marion counties coordinate to target drug trafficking organizations.
I met with law enforcement leaders from these counties in Crown Point, and they shared their ongoing concerns about heroin and other drugs being trafficked into the United States from Mexico and growing concerns about fentanyl arriving in Indiana, sent from abroad through the mail.
In addition to our efforts to expand prevention and treatment services, there is more we can do to support our border security operations in their efforts to interdict shipments of illegal drugs.
First, as Congress discusses ways to enhance our border security, any of those conversations should include as priority items measures to ensure our land ports of entry, especially along the southern border, are fully equipped with the personnel and tools needed to better identify drugs coming into the United States from Mexico.
We should also ensure that we are fully supporting vital intelligence — sharing initiatives that help to disrupt cartel activity.
Additionally, to counter the threat posed by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids arriving in the United States by mail, we should look to enhance resources available to assist the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Postal Service to identify shipments of these dangerous substances.
As one step in this direction, I support the goals behind the bipartisan STOP Act, which would require the U.S. Postal Service to work with foreign postal systems to collect advance electronic customs data, such as shipper information, on all packages destined for the United States.
If we ensure the Postal Service has the resources and time to implement the bill effectively, this data would help Customs and Border Patrol to better screen packages for fentanyl and other illegal substances.
I also support funding to provide Customs and Border Patrol with additional screening devices, laboratory equipment and personnel to analyze screening results as they come in from the ports of entry and mail facilities.
As we continue to pursue a comprehensive approach to end the opioid epidemic, these are common-sense steps we can take to strengthen our border enforcement and disrupt drug trafficking. It will require all of us to work together if we want to overcome this crisis, and I continue to look for ways for Congress to partner with law enforcement, public health officials, local leaders and others to make progress toward that goal.