‘I feel like we’re at ground zero’: Victims, law enforcement and addiction experts talk about fentanyl in panel discussion with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

The availability and potency of illicit fentanyl is growing on the streets of eastern Washington, with parents unaware of the growing threat, according to law enforcement, family members of victims and addiction experts who spoke. with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers this week.

” What is the program ? I feel like we’re at ground zero,” said Molly Cain, a local teacher whose 23-year-old son, Carson, died in November 2020 of a synthetic opioid overdose that was declared an emergency. public health and has come to the attention of the federal government. resources in Spokane.

McMorris Rodgers assembled a panel of representatives from the Spokane Police Department, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, Spokane Regional Health District, and Washington State University School of Pharmacy to review this what could be done at the federal level to solve the local problem. Seizures of the drug, sold on the streets in pill form since at least 2016, law enforcement said, rose 1,100% in Spokane County and 2,700% in eastern Washington by 2020 to 2021, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“There is no escape,” the congresswoman said after Cain and others shared their stories of overdoses. “It can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

Molly Cain said that’s what happened to her son. He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was taking a break from studying at Gonzaga University when he ran out of his antidepressant Xanax, she said. He bought a pill on social media app SnapChat, took it after returning from Thanksgiving dinner a year and a half ago and died of an overdose. Molly Cain found him the next day.

“My son made a mistake in his life,” Cain said. “And I think those are the things that we also need to get out to the public, understanding that it’s blind.”

McMorris Rodgers asked Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl and Lt. Rob Boothe whether social media companies are complying with investigative efforts to track down dealers who use their apps to sell drugs. Boothe said companies are complying with search warrants, but the speed at which transactions take place and content is sent to servers presents a challenge.

The congresswoman, who has criticized Section 230 protections given to social media companies to shield them from liability for speech on their platforms, continued to criticize that protection in her comments Tuesday regarding illicit activity.

“In return for the liability protections, they had to moderate content, they had to moderate illicit and illegal content on their platforms,” ​​she said.

Apps can have the added effect of confusing online shoppers and giving them a false sense of security, said Nicole Rodin, assistant professor of pharmacotherapy at Washington State University’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. .

“An example that I see quite often is a pill identification app,” Rodin said. “Now they have these apps that are free, and it looks like a Xanax, and the scores are like a Xanax, and it looks like a Xanax. And they think they’re just taking a Xanax.

But this pill may contain fentanyl. Some parts of the country, including San Francisco, have gone so far as to provide bars and other businesses with test strips to determine if the drugs people are taking are spiked with the opioid which can be cut with other drugs to increase profitability in the streets. .

Boothe said officers were not just scavenging pills from the streets, but fentanyl powder, indicating that pills that were once made overseas or in Mexico and smuggled into Spokane may be produced in town.

“That means we have pill mills here in Spokane,” he said. “And if we have pill mills here in Spokane, then those are other places too.”

McMorris Rodgers began her comments with a description of the legislation she supports that would classify drugs that have a chemical makeup similar to fentanyl as Schedule I substances under federal law.

An emergency order was issued by the DEA in 2018 that placed these substances in a category of drugs considered the most dangerous and subject to the heaviest penalties for possession and sale, but this order had to be renewed several times by the Congress.

“What’s been happening for the last few years is they’re changing the chemical makeup and it’s just to avoid enforcement,” the MP said in an interview.

Republicans, including McMorris Rodgers, backed the bill on Capitol Hill, but some groups representing defendants told the U.S. Government Accountability Office that extending the law could lead to lengthy prison sentences mandatory for trafficking substances that are not as dangerous as fentanyl. . It could also continue to exacerbate racial disparities in incarceration in federal prisons, a trend that has continued since the reform of national drug laws in the 1980s that imposed minimums for the sale of crack cocaine and other drugs. .

In the most recent funding bill, Congress extended the listing of so-called “fentanyl analogues” on Schedule I until the end of this year.

McMorris Rodgers said the proposal was just one of many steps needed to address the public health crisis.

“In general, we need to raise awareness,” she said. “We need more treatment options. We also need more research on what will work effectively.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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