Peters, Capito Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect Border Security Officers from Fentanyl Exposure

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters, Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation to help protect Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees from accidental exposure to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The Synthetic Opioid Exposure Prevention and Training Act of 2020 would require CBP to issue safety protocols for handling synthetic opioids, provide training to officers who could come in contact with the drugs in the line of duty, and provide protective equipment to officers who may be exposed. Fentanyl is far more potent than other opioids, and as little as two milligrams can be lethal.

“In 2019, Customs and Border Protection employees in the Detroit field office seized more than ten pounds of illicit fentanyl, an amount that could contain as many as 1.5 million lethal doses,” said Senator Peters. “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.”

“Our Customs and Border Protection (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,” Senator Capito said. “It is essential they are protected from exposure to these dangerous chemicals. I’m proud to join Senator Peters in introducing the Synthetic Opioid Exposure Prevention and Training Act, which would require CBP to put in place specific protocols, procedures, and training for the safe handling of these deadly substances. I look forward to working with CBP on their continued efforts to ensure the safety of their workforce as they strive to keep us safe.”

“Every day, border security professionals around the country put their lives on the line in order to prevent dangerous narcotics from entering our communities and harming the American people,” said Brandon Judd, National President of the National Border Patrol Council. “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. We applaud Senators Peters and Capito for their work on this commonsense bill and for their continued advocacy on behalf of our frontline border security personnel around the country.”

“Finding and stopping opioids at our nation’s border is one of the many key responsibilities of frontline CBP personnel at ports of entry—and one they do exceedingly well. 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, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union. “We thank Senators Peters and Capito for their leadership in moving this important legislation in the U.S. Senate.”

“The Detroit-area CBP employees really appreciate that Sen. Peters and Sen. Capito are looking out for their safety,” said Robert Holland, President of the Detroit Treasury Employees Union. “Our job is to stop these deadly drugs and this legislation will help make sure that we can do that job and return home to our families at the end of the day. I urge Congress to swiftly take up this bill and give the frontline CBP employees the tools they need to protect themselves and our communities.”

The opioids crisis has devastated communities in Michigan and West Virginia, killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and strained the resources of first responders, hospitals, and police forces. For the past several years, the crisis has been driven by illicit synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, which are incredibly potent chemicals that can be fatal in miniscule doses. The vast majority of these synthetics originate abroad, and CBP is tasked with preventing these substances from entering our communities. On a standard day, CBP will screen more than 67,000 cargo containers and seize more than one ton of illicit drugs at airports, seaports, and other ports of entry. The amount of seized synthetic opioids has skyrocketed in recent years, resulting in increased exposure for CBP employees to these dangerous chemicals, which can lead to accidental overdoses.

The Detroit Metropolitan Airport is a major hub of incoming flights from China, which some officials estimate is responsible for roughly 90% of the world’s illicit fentanyl. In 2019 alone, CBP’s Detroit Field Office was responsible for seizing roughly 10.5 pounds of fentanyl, which could contain as many as 1.5 million lethal doses.

A recent Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) report identified a number of serious issues with CBP’s preparations for accidental contact with synthetic opioids. In particular, the report highlighted inadequate training procedures, limited preparation for accidental exposure, and a frequent failure to ensure that the most common antidote, naloxone, was readily available in areas where accidental exposure to synthetics could occur. The Synthetic Opioid Exposure Prevention and Training Act would help CBP address these concerns by requiring clear protocols for the safe handling of substances that could contain synthetic opioids, providing personal protective equipment for officers and agents handling unknown substances, and providing regular training to avoid accidental exposure. The bill would also require sufficient quantities of naloxone at CBP facilities to prevent a tragic outcome, should accidental exposure occur.

Peters and Capito’s bipartisan bill was introduced as a Senate companion to the Synthetic Opioid Exposure Prevention and Training Act, which was introduced in the House by U.S. Representative Yvette Clark (NY-9) and passed in December.

Last year, Peters and Capito pushed for bipartisan legislation that was signed into law to crack down on manufacturers and traffickers of fentanyl, the first-ever targeted fentanyl sanctions bill aimed at pressuring the Chinese government to step up enforcement of its drug laws. Peters also advanced bipartisan legislation to strengthen border security and address personnel shortages at ports of entry, where the vast majority of narcotics enter the country. From 2013-2017, 88 percent of all opioids seized by CBP were discovered at ports of entry.