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Vern Buchanan co-sponsoring legislation to toughen screening of overseas shipments of synthetic drugs into coming to U.S.

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GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan announced Friday he is co-sponsoring legislation to toughen screening of overseas shipments of deadly synthetic drugs coming into the United States.

The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act will help stem the flow of dangerous drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil by requiring more intensive screening at U.S. Postal Service facilities. Fentanyl and carfentanil are synthetic drugs similar to heroin but more than 50 times more powerful. These drugs are often manufactured in foreign countries like China and mailed into the United States.

“While our community is making progress addressing the heroin crisis, we are now confronting a new threat – fentanyl,” said Buchanan, who represents Sarasota and Manatee Counties in Congress.“If we want to save lives and reduce overdose deaths we must stop these new killer drugs from crossing the border.”

Fentanyl is up to 50 times as potent as heroin but easier and cheaper to produce, made from chemicals instead of fields of poppies. Legal versions of fentanyl have been sold as painkillers or anesthetics since the 1960s.  In April, Prince died of a fentanyl overdose.

Manatee County ranks highest in the state for the number of fentanyl-related deaths, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission. And synthetic fentanyl variations have been found in 41 fatal overdoses so far this year, according to the medical examiner for Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. In Florida, fentanyl-related deaths increased by 77.6 percent last year when compared to 2014, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission.

“This is an important bill that will help reduce the amount of fentanyl and carfentanil entering the United States,” says Manatee County Sheriff-elect Rick Wells. “It’s critical that we cut the head off of the snake and put an end to the destruction these synthetic drugs are causing in our communities.”

These substances can come in several forms, including powder, tablets, and spray and can be absorbed through the skin or by accidental inhalation.

The STOP Act was introduced by Ohio House Republican Pat Tiberi. It would require shipments from foreign countries through the U.S. postal system to provide electronic advance data stating information such as where and who the package is coming from, where and who it’s going to, and what’s inside. Currently the USPS does not adequately screen all “non-letter” packages entering our country from abroad for dangerous or illegal contents.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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