Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene. Sheriff Greene knows firsthand the toll that fentanyl has taken on Ohioans in the Mahoning Valley and across the state, and the dangers the drug poses to first responders.
It’s why I’m leading a bipartisan group of colleagues, including Senator Portman, to reintroduce the Providing Officers with Electronic Resources Act, also known as the POWER Act, to build on my INTERDICT Act that the former president signed into law in 2018.
That law got new, portable, hand-held screening devices to Customs and Border Protection agents to detect fentanyl at the U.S. border. The POWER Act will give our local and state law enforcement access to the same high-tech tools to protect themselves and the public.
We know the presence of fentanyl has only increased since 2018. A couple of weeks ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued a public safety alert warning that drug traffickers are flooding the U.S. with deadly counterfeit opioid pills that contain fentanyl and meth.
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, and Ohio officers know all too well that even coming into contact with it for a moment can be dangerous. We’ve seen cases in Ohio of officers ending up in the hospital just from brushing up against fentanyl residue. These devices will allow officers to know instantly if a pill or substance poses a safety risk to them and to their communities.
State and local testing labs are facing backlogs, because of the massive quantity of these drugs officers are seizing. Sometimes agencies have to wait months for results — and that means delays in investigations and prosecutions, as officers work to get these drugs off Ohio streets.
Getting instant test results will speed that up, protect the public, and cut down on the number of times officers have to put themselves in harm’s way when arresting drug traffickers.
Right now, suspected traffickers are often released back into the community while the drugs are sent off to a lab for testing. With these devices, law enforcement can bring appropriate charges after the initial encounter and they will not have to put themselves in harm’s way a second time.
That’s why we have the support of national and state law enforcement groups, including the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association.
Fighting the opioid crisis is something we have a long history of working on in a bipartisan way in the Senate, and we’ll continue teaming up across the aisle to get Ohio law enforcement officers the tools they need.
Sherrod Brown is the senior U.S. senator from Ohio.