Written by Utah Representative Paul Ray and originally posted in the Salt Lake Tribune.
March 13, 2019
It may come as somewhat of a
shock for most Utahns to learn that our state has one of the worst rates of
opioid drug overdoses in our country. In fact, our state has been consistently
ranked among the top 10 for opioid-related overdoses for the past decade. According
to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
more than 600 people died from opioid-related overdoses in Utah during 2016
The data for 2016 showed a
slight improvement over 2015 due to federal, state and local efforts via the Utah Opioid Task Force, as a result of its
cracking down on the over-prescription and sale of legal pain-relieving
medications that contain opioids. However, the rate of mortality has remained
stubbornly high due to the spread of an illegally manufactured drug called
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid most people had never even heard
of five years ago. It is such a potent drug that even
a few milligrams of it — equivalent to a grain of rice — can be deadly for
anyone who comes into contact with it — even accidentally.
China is the main source of
manufacturing the illegal fentanyl finding its way across our borders. Most of
the drugs are shipped to Mexican drug cartels that
have perfected the process of pressing fentanyl into counterfeit pills and
smuggling them into the U.S. for distribution. Sometimes the fentanyl is just
shipped in bulk over our borders and is turned into pills in factories on our
By now, many of us have heard
the unfortunate story of Aaron Shamo, an otherwise
promising young man, an Eagle Scout from a solid family. Shamo became a drug
kingpin in a comfortable Salt Lake City suburb, manufacturing more than 500,000
counterfeit pills made from fentanyl to sell on the dark web.
If it can happen here, it can
Just before the recent elections,
President Donald Trump signed into law the STOP Act, the first
sweeping legislation addressing some of the problems that have given rise to
this epidemic. The need for this legislation was so great, less than 10 out of
535 Members of the House of Representatives and Senate voted against it.
While this is an excellent
first step, Congress needs to take further, more robust action. We desperately
need more security at our borders and, like our Attorney General Sean Reyes, I
urge Congress to now pass the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl
Analogues (SOFA) Act, which would give prosecutors additional powers
to go after the ringleaders of the production and manufacturing cartels
responsible for selling these deadly drugs in our state.
Make no mistake, we cannot ease
up on the pressure required to defeat the spread of this deadly drug that has
invaded Utah. State leaders like myself must continue to push for legislation
that will secure our communities until the death toll recedes to zero.
Paul Ray represents District 13
in the Utah House of Representatives.