Last week, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., led Florida law enforcement officers to tour the Arizona border to learn more about the trafficking of fentanyl.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, the president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA), joined Bilirakis. So did Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper, Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast, Major Phil Kapusta from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Colonel Justin Ferrara from the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.
“During this week’s visit, the group heard directly from the DEA, Customs and Border Protection Services, U.S. Border Patrol Agents, and border county sheriffs about how fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are being trafficked across the border and fueling the addiction crisis plaguing the country. More than 107,000 Americans died of a drug overdose during the past year, with Florida ranking 2nd in the nation in opioid-related deaths. Fentanyl overdose is now the number one cause of death in the nation for individuals ages 18 to 45. Law enforcement officials also report that most of the synthetic opioids found on streets throughout the country have been manufactured in China and then trafficked across unsecured areas along the southern border. The exact amount of fentanyl and related substances that have been trafficked into our country is impossible to precisely pinpoint, but law enforcement officials have seen a dramatic spike in the amount seized and report only being able to stop a fraction of the true amount flowing in due to limited resources,” the congressman’s office noted.
Bilirakis weighed in on his trip after he returned.
“From speaking with those on the front lines at the border, it is clear that the crisis is worsening by the day and that our brave men and women who are trying to keep our country safe have not been given the manpower, equipment and other resources needed to do their jobs effectively. They are overwhelmed and need immediate assistance. The dangerous situation at the border has enriched and emboldened criminal cartels and fueled record fentanyl overdoses throughout the country. As part of our commitment to ensuring a country that is safe, we must first properly fund all levels of law enforcement. Congress must also pass the HALT Fentanyl Act to ensure fentanyl and its related analogues are permanently listed as a Schedule 1 substance. In addition to stopping the supply for these illegal substances, we must also provide resources to reduce the demand side of the equation- focusing on education, prevention and ensuring access to quality behavioral health treatment. It is obvious that the drugs trafficked through do not remain in border states, like Arizona. There is an intricate and elaborate delivery system in place to quickly transport these deadly drugs to communities throughout the country; in effect making every state a border state. It will take a collaborative approach to truly turn the tides in the epidemic that is ravaging communities, like ours,” said Bilirakis.
“It was also clear during our visit that the system is clearly broken, and immediate change is warranted,” Bilirakis added. “More than 5 million illegal migrants have entered the country since President Biden took office. Enough is enough! We need to secure the border to save lives and protect our national security. We must return to the border policies we know work: ending catch-and-release, finishing the border wall, and restarting the successful ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. We also need a surge in the number of judges and magistrates available to process and adjudicate asylum seekers AT the border, rather than releasing them into the country and hoping they will appear for a future hearing that may be several months away. Additionally, we need to activate the state and National Guards to help with processing so that Border Patrol agents can focus their efforts on covering more territory along the border and keeping criminals out. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to implement these commonsense solutions!”
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