McCaskill report warns staffing shortages could undermine efforts to seize opioid at border

McCaskill report warns staffing shortages could undermine efforts to seize opioid at border
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A new report from Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillNelson campaign to donate K from Al Franken group to charity 'Kavanaugh' chants erupt at Trump rally in Missouri The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify MORE (D-Mo.) claims that staffing shortages at the country's ports of entry could be undermining federal efforts to seize a powerful synthetic opioid.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is currently about 4,000 port officers short of what the agency needs, according to a report from minority staff on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released Thursday.

“The investigation found that CBP Officers at ports of entry (Port Officers) play a key role in stopping opioids and that CBP has significant shortages of Port Officers that may be compromising efforts to seize additional opioids before they can reach U.S. communities,” the report states. 

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The report notes that port officers – authorities who man airports, seaports, border crossings and international mail facilities – helped the CBP in 2017 seize some 1,370 pounds of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that’s about 50 times more powerful than heroin.

That was more than double the amount of fentanyl seized by CBP in 2016, according to the report. And the vast majority of it, 85 percent, was taken from ports of entry, the report states.

In a statement, a CBP spokesperson said that "CBP has taken concrete action to combat the influx of fentanyl and other illegal narcotics such as training canines, adding more CBP officers at express consignment and international mail hubs, and increasing the use of technology."

"Combatting this epidemic requires a multilayered approach across a number of agencies and departments. CBP has made significant investments and improvements in our drug detection, identification, and targeting capabilities. These resources, along with enhanced information sharing and partnerships, are critical components of CBP’s ability to detect and deter the entry of dangerous illicit drugs."

McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released the report to underscore efforts to combat the nation's opioid crisis, which is estimated to be responsible for 115 overdose deaths per day.

The Missouri Democrat has introduced a bill to authorize the CBP to start hiring an extra 500 port officers each year until they fill their staffing needs. 

“Illicit fentanyl is now a huge driver in this national public health crisis, and this report shows a staggering increase in products being shipped and smuggled to the United States,” McCaskill said in a statement.

“There is no silver bullet to solving this influx of opioids, but at the very least we need to ensure that our ports are adequately staffed and equipped to deal with this problem — and right now that’s simply not the case.” 

 

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids more than doubled between 2015 and 2016.

Most of the fentanyl deaths are linked to fentanyl made illegally, which mainly comes from China, according to the report.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are aiming to pass opioid legislation this year.

The Senate Health Committee sent a bipartisan opioid package to the Senate floor last month.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also hammering out bills to be included in a package that Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHouse GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill GOP turns its fire on Google Hillicon Valley: Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias | DOJ convenes meeting on bias claims | Rubio clashes with Alex Jones | DHS chief urges lawmakers to pass cyber bill | Sanders bill takes aim at Amazon MORE (R-Ore.) hopes to have on the House floor by Memorial Day.