WASHINGTON – This week, Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) participated in the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing entitled “Looking North: Assessing the Current Threat at the U.S. – Canada Border.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the current threat landscape and the challenges America faces at the northern border, including the growing trend of illicit drug flow between Canada and the United States. During his questioning, Barletta pointed to the growing flow of drugs like fentanyl, coming across the northern border with the panel of Department of Homeland Security officials.
“As we are all aware, the United States is experiencing a deadly opioid epidemic that is devastating communities across the country,” Barletta said. “In Pennsylvania alone, drug overdose deaths rose by approximately 37% in 2016 according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Furthermore, since 2000 more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids. Can any of you speak to how the Department of Homeland Security is working to combat the flow of illegal narcotics from Canada, in particular the smuggling of opioids?”
“From the HIS [Homeland Security Investigations] perspective, we’re seeing a lot of the fentanyl, counter-fentanyl and the analogues coming out of China,” said Kevin Kelly, Special Agent in Charge (Buffalo, NY), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-HIS. “Now the Chinese have come to the table to try and stop some of that from leaving their country, but they need to take a more active role as well. As far as bi-directional flow from Canada, what we’re seeing is high grade, hydroponic marijuana coming south into the US and cocaine going north. Recently, we did a case where we busted up a ring about a week and a half ago out of Syracuse, and they were going pound for pound [with] heroine for cocaine. So that’s what we’re seeing going back and forth between those two countries.”
Fentanyl is also being transported into the United States in several ways, including parcel packages directly from China or Canada, and across the Southwest border. While the seizures at the Southwest border tend to be larger in volume, they are typically lower in purity (~7%) than the volumes arriving in the mail directly from China into the U.S. or Canada (~90%). This fentanyl concealed in parcel packages is difficult for law enforcement officials to trace back to the original sender due to the use of freight forwarders.
“How is Homeland Security working with the postal service to improve inspection services of packages from Canada?” Barletta asked the panel.
“So sir we’re working on that right now,” responded Michael Daugherty, Assistant Secretary for Border, Immigration, and Trade Policy, Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans at the Department of Homeland Security. “The commission that was run by Governor Christie came out with its report November 1, it had 56 recommendations in there. One of those recommendations was to ensure that we get advanced electronic data on international shipments coming from high risk regions to identify suppliers and distributers in the United States. That effort on our part is underway. [They] asked the Department and law enforcement work harder to target drug trafficking organizations and that CBP [Customs and Border Protection] and the Postal Service use new detection capabilities for synthetic opioids.”
The United States and Canada have made significant progress in efforts to share information on potential national security threats, including individuals flagged on the no-fly and selectee lists that are then aggregated into the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center. However, information sharing limitations exist including the lack of clearly defined methods for sharing threat data from radars and sensors. This gap means that the United States and Canada have been unable to pursue a program of “inspect once, clear twice” as conceived under the 2011 Beyond the Border framework.
“The President’s interest in ending the opioid crisis is maybe one of the major things that he thinks and talks about. So it’s very much a bipartisan effort. He has brought in pharmaceutical companies and asked them ‘what can you do in terms of creating an acute pain drug that will not create a sort of dependency,’” Assistant Secretary Daugherty added. “There is a lot of hope in [the pharmaceutical] community that they can do something valuable that will help end the crisis.”
The crisis has evolved in recent years, with a surge in overdose deaths driven by the proliferation of illicitly made fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid. Barletta recently cosponsored H.R. 1057, Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act of 2017, led by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (OH-12). The bill aims to prevent the illegal shipment of fentanyl by ensuring that merchandise is subject to reviews by CBP.
Barletta has also cosponsored H.R. 2851, Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SISTA) Act of 2017, led by Rep. John Katko (NY-24). The legislation outlaws 13 synthetic fentanyls that have been identified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as an immediate threat to public health. It also creates a new drug schedule for synthetic fentanyl, provides a streamlined approach for sentencing synthetic drug trafficking in federal courts, and adds to current law an offense for false labeling of controlled substance analogues.
Watch Barletta’s questioning HERE.