Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said it is essential to protect CBP officers and others from exposure to fentanyl and other dangerous chemicals.

Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said it is essential to protect CBP officers and others from exposure to fentanyl and other dangerous chemicals. AP file photo

Senators Make Bipartisan Push to Better Protect Feds From Synthetic Opioids

Measure would ensure federal personnel have protective equipment and overdose medications on hand.

A new, bipartisan bill would attempt to limit federal officers’ exposure to potentially deadly shipments of illicit opioids, requiring Customs and Border Protection to create new safety protocols.

The 2020 Synthetic Opioid Exposure Prevention and Training Act (S. 3345) would also require CBP to develop new and regular training for officers who regularly come in contact with substances such as fentanyl. Synthetic drug manufacturers, primarily based in China, have in recent years relied heavily on the U.S. Postal Service and other shippers to send opioids to the United States. CBP employees are typically tasked with screening international packages for drugs and other illicit materials. 

“A lethal dose of fentanyl is about the same size as just a few grains of salt, so it’s absolutely vital that our nation’s border security professionals have the training, equipment and resources they need to safely search for, handle and dispose of this deadly substance,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who authored the bill. 

The measure would require the CBP commissioner establish procedures to “reduce the risk of injury or death resulting from accidental exposure and enhance post-exposure management.” The protocols would apply to all customs officers, border agents and other personnel, including canines, who could potentially handle or help identify synthetic opioids. The training would include steps for handling opioids, the proper use of personal protective equipment and how to administer naloxone, a medication to treat opioid overdoses. 

The bill would task CBP with ensuring that adequate naloxone doses and protect equipment are present at all appropriate agency locations, such as ports of entry and the international mail centers where CBP officers conduct inspections. 

“Our CBP officers play a vital role in efforts to combat the opioid epidemic by detecting and stopping the flow of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. “It is essential they are protected from exposure to these dangerous chemicals.”

Both the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents customs officers, and the National Border Patrol Council endorsed the bill. 

“NTEU strongly supports this legislation that will help keep these employees safe from deadly narcotics as they inspect, test and intercept illegal drugs,” said Tony Reardon, the union’s president. 

Brandon Judd, head of the Border Patrol union, said agents more than ever “put their lives on the line” as they intercept opioids at the border. 

“With fentanyl seizures becoming increasingly common, we must ensure that every effort is made to protect our brave men and women on the line from possible exposure to this deadly drug,” Judd said. 

Peters last year introduced a bill to require the Postal Service to develop a plan to better prevent synthetic opioid shipments from making their way to the United States. The federal government should soon receive some assistance in its fight against opioids in the mail through “advanced electronic data,” or AED, which provide the Postal Service and CBP with information about the contents of international packages before they reach the United States. A requirement for the data is already imposed on international packages coming into the country through private carriers like FedEx and UPS, but the mandate will apply across the board to international packages arriving through the Postal Service starting in 2021 due to a measure President Trump signed into law last year. 

Supporters of the measure were hopeful it would help stem the flow of illicit, synthetic opioids from foreign manufacturers through the mail system. AED gives customs officers insight into who is sending the packages and allows them to flag questionable content lists based on their knowledge of how the traffickers operate. The Postal Service inspector general, however, recently found the mailing agency does not always take action after CBP flags a shipment for additional review due to information included in its advanced electronic data. As of 2018, the Postal Service received AED on 57% of foreign packages.