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District 28 US Congressman Henry Cuellar is bringing awareness to the hazards faced daily by border officers handling the powerful prescription synthetic opioid fentanyl and has co-authored a bill to provide protection for the agents.
Rep. Cuellar and Ohio Congressman Dave Joyce are putting their vote behind the Prevent Exposure to Narcotics and Toxics (PREVENT) Act, bipartisan legislation that aims to protect US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers from accidental exposure to fentanyl and other potentially lethal substances they encounter while on the job.
Fentanyl is a narcotic used in treatment of extreme pain and carries a high risk of addiction and dependence. Exposure to the narcotic can cause respiratory distress or, in high doses, death.
In total, CBP personnel report they have seized 10,469 lbs. of fentanyl so far this year in routine intervention procedures at the US-Mexico border.
The federal report indicates that at least 9,978 lbs. of the narcotic seized by border agents this year had been carried by smugglers attempting to transport the opiate across the southwest border.
The quantity of fentanyl and other powerful opiates being handled by officers carrying out routine border protection measures is of concern and indicates the agents may be at risk of exposure, the congressmen noted in a prepared statement this week.
“As the Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations, I will continue to support bills that provide CBP with the necessary resources to carry out their duties safely and efficiently,” Cuellar said. “Thank you to Representative Joyce for working with me on this essential legislation.”
“It’s critical that these men and women have the tools and training necessary to do their jobs as safely as possible amid this record-breaking surge of drug trafficking,” tRep. Joyce said. “I’m proud to introduce the PREVENT Act with Congressman Cuellar and will continue to do everything in my power to support our CBP officers as they work to defend and maintain our borders.”
In 2019, the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report that found CBP officers handling fentanyl were at risk and highlighted concerns that the drug was not being stored correctly and that some CBP facilities did not have naloxone available in case of an accidental exposure.
CBP officers are at risk of exposure to illicit drugs such as fentanyl through inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, contact with needles, or mucous membrane contact via the nose, eyes and mouth, according to Reps. Cuellar and Joyce. The PREVENT Act would help equip officers with lifesaving technology that can prevent such exposures.
Specifically, the bill would require the CBP Commissioner to issue containment devices to CBP personnel and provide training on their use.