CAMDEN, NJ— U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez was in Camden Monday to announce new legislation that would impose steep sanctions on China and Chinese entities who supply and support fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opiate that is 50 times more potent than heroin.

Menendez was joined by city and county officials at the Camden waterfront, directly across the Delaware River from the Port of Philadelphia, where last summer inspectors seized 110 pounds of fentanyl, worth $1.7 million, from a Chinese cargo ship.

“Today’s battle against opioids looks very different than it did just a few years ago. Over the last five years, the potent synthetic opioid known as fentanyl has poured into the country from China and saturated our communities with deadly consequences,” Menendez said.

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According to Menendez, there were 3,163 opioid-related deaths in New Jersey in 2018. In the first three months of 2019, there have been over 600, Menendez said, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse attributed the largest increase due to synthetic fentanyl. The Center for Disease Control said there were more than 28,000 deaths in 2017 related to synthetic opioids [other than methadone.

Earlier this year, in its largest ever bust, 254 pounds of fentanyl pills and powder was found hidden in a cucumber truck that was seized by US Customs and Border Protection officers at the Arizona-Mexican border.

“I’ve spent years fighting for better security at our ports, including making sure that every piece of cargo is scanned for illegal drugs, weapons and other threats. But China shouldn’t be trafficking this venomous drug into the United States to begin with. It has to stop.”

Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli said he recently came face to face with the consequences of the invasion of fentanyl at a funeral for a 28-year-old who died of an opioid overdose.

“The only thing found in his system was fentanyl,” Cappelli said.

So far this year there have been 63 reported opioid-related overdose deaths this year, said Cappelli. In 2018, there were 312 opioid-related death in Camden County, and 650 since 2017.

“The legislation that [Menendez] is proposing is exactly what we need to start turning the tide on the fentanyl coming into the United States,” Cappelli said.

The bipartisan bill, known as the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, is co-sponsored by Menendez and U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer [D-New York], Tom Cotton [R-Arkansas], Sherrod Brown [D-Ohio], Marco Rubio [R-Florida], Pat Toomey [R-Pennsylvania] and Jeanne Shaheen [D-New Hampshire].

The bill, if passed, would provide $1 billion dollars over five years to:

  • Impose sanctions on drug manufacturers in China who knowingly provide synthetic opioids to traffickers, transnational criminal organizations like those in Mexico who mix fentanyl with other drugs and traffic them into the US and financial institutions that assist such entities
  • Authorize new funding to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Department of Defense and Department of State, to combat the foreign trafficking of opioids
  • Urges the President of the United States to commence diplomatic efforts with US partners to establish multilateral sanctions against foreign opioid traffickers
  • Establish a Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor US efforts and report on how to more effectively combat the flow of synthetic opioids from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

“Last December, I was encouraged to see the administration push China to ban a wider range of fentanyl-related substances from being manufactured in their country,” Menendez said. “But as we all know, China has a long history of disregarding its international obligations and struggling to enforce its own drug laws. We need real accountability if we want to save American lives,” Menedez said.

While Camden County Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Wysocki said that the Camden County Police Department does not know of any fentanyl mills in Camden, Camden County, or South Jersey, he added that he police department meets with multiple federal and state law enforcement authorities each day to combat the substance.

“We attack the fentanyl problem with the same unique operational tactics as we do with heroin investigations,” Wysocki said, who also told a story from last Saturday night when a Camden County Police Officer revived an unconscious 31-year-old woman from Boothwin, Pennsylvania who had overdosed on fentanyl with her 21-month-old son in the backseat.

“What was disturbing was she came here from Boothwin, she purchased heroin thinking its heroin, but in reality with these overdoses it's not heroin, its fentanyl. She went to the family dollar, she stops with her son in the back seat, injected this position, and had no idea how she wound up at the gas station,” Wysocki said, adding that since the police department has started deploying Narcan, it has saved 421 lives.

“At the end of the day, we have to stop the fentanyl from coming into the city, and we do not have the ability to do that,” Wysocki said.