Freshman Congresswoman Brittany Pettersen introduced her first piece of legislation Thursday.
The Stop the Import of Fentanyl Act would set up a national center under the Drug Enforcement Administration to prevent the import of illicit synthetic drugs, like fentanyl. The office would investigate how the drugs make it into the United States as well as come up with a strategic plan to break up the synthetic drug trade.
The model is similar to the National Counterterrorism Center set up after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Often times (departments) are not coordinating in the ways they need to,” Pettersen told CPR News. “This is about bringing in all of these critical agencies so we’re sharing information and increasing the capacity to stop fentanyl from coming to this country.”
Pettersen said the bill is about making government work the way that it should and recognize “some of the gaps that exist in our systems and actually doing something to address it.”
It’s a topic that has personal significance for the first-term Democrat. Her mother suffered from drug addiction and overdosed several times due to fentanyl.
“And so it’s very personal to me to help prevent the tragedies that we see, the people we’re losing every day unnecessarily,” she said.
Prosecutors can now charge the dealers behind fentanyl overdose deaths. But the cases are hard to solve, and ever-growing
Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio is co-sponsoring the bill. The two serve on the House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions, where Beatty is the ranking member.
“Illicit synthetic drugs such as fentanyl are devastating our communities at an alarming rate, with overdose deaths rising rapidly in recent years,” Beatty said in a statement. “Establishing a National Center to analyze, track, and halt the import of these illicit drugs into the United States is a critical first step toward protecting our communities.”
Pettersen said she is also talking to a number of Republicans about signing onto the bill.
During the campaign, Pettersen said combating the opioid crisis would be a top focus for her in Congress. She joined the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, which helped pass legislation on those issues in the last Congress.
Pettersen said she’s interested in addressing the systemic issues of opioid addiction. “I think oftentimes we see Band-Aid approaches at all levels of government and policymaking … so (the bill) is the first step of many pieces of legislation that I’ll be bringing to address the opioid epidemic.”
As a state senator, Pettersen was a sponsor of a fentanyl accountability bill that was signed into law last year. And in 2017, she led a special committee that developed a package of bills to prevent opioid abuse and help those suffering from addiction.
Last month, Rep. Yadira Caraveo, Colorado’s other freshman member of Congress, also made the drug crisis the focus of her first bill. Her legislation tackles xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer that is increasingly showing up with fentanyl, with deadly results.