U.S. Sen. Rob Portman mug with flag

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

EDITOR'S NOTE: This op-end piece was originally published on Roll Call.

The latest data on the opioid crisis shows how the COVID-19 pandemic reversed the progress America was making in decreasing drug overdose deaths.

More than 90,000 Americans died of overdoses between September 2019 and September 2020. Last year, drug overdose deaths rose by more than 27 percent in New York and more than 24 percent in Ohio. Based on current trends, we expect 2021 to be as bad, if not worse.

Recent data by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a massive increase in seizures of fentanyl at the border. CBP has seized more than 600 pounds of deadly fentanyl every month for the last 12 months — a record. In the last six months alone, it has seized 5,400 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill 1.2 billion people or the entire population of the United States more than three times over.

This six-month total is more than all of last year, and CBP believes the vast majority of drugs are getting in without being stopped.

The reason for this is clear — the Biden administration’s radical policy changes have encouraged the drug cartels to smuggle more unlawful migrants and lethal, illicit substances across our southern border.

The Biden administration systematically dismantled the existing border security framework put in place by the Trump administration, including revoking the COVID-19 emergency declaration for the border, stopping construction of the border fence, suspending the Remain in Mexico policy, canceling Asylum Cooperative Agreements and severely reducing immigration enforcement within the United States.

Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had the fewest deportations in its nearly two decades of existence. 

The most immediate way to curb this fentanyl flow is to stop the surge at the border and give our overworked law enforcement officers the resources to crack down on drug smugglers. To that end, here are four steps the Biden administration should take to address this crisis. 

First, it must provide the resources our Border Patrol needs to hire more agents, acquire more technology and aid its mission by finalizing the construction of the already funded border wall.

Second, the Biden administration must allow migrants to apply for asylum closer to home in the first safe country they enter. 

Third, it must implement asylum adjudication at the border and stop releasing tens of thousands of unlawful migrants into the United States.

Fourth, it must implement an agile response plan to respond to unlawful immigration surges. Our bipartisan legislation, the Border Response & Resilience Act, would require this and would allow the Department of Homeland Security to access contingency funding to respond to border surges. 

This would reduce the flow of unlawful migrants and give our law enforcement agents at the border greater capability to apprehend drug traffickers.

Criminal manufacturers and drug cartels in China and Mexico are not slowing down in their efforts to bring fentanyl and other deadly synthetic opioids into the United States. We cannot slow down in our efforts to stop them either. 

We are calling on the Biden administration to stop this surge of deadly synthetic opioids and start saving American lives.

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