McMorris Rodgers: Fentanyl Is Tearing Families and Communities Apart

Rodgers, Spokane County Sheriff Talk Drug Crisis, Border Security with Brandi Kruse

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) and Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels appeared on unDivided with Brandi Kruse to discuss the growing fentanyl crisis in Washington state and across the country. Cathy also shared her insights and biggest takeaways from her recent visit to the southern border with the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Highlights and excerpts from the interview:

Spokane’s Fentanyl Crisis

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Spokane’s now one out of 11 crisis cities for fentanyl in the United States, and unfortunately, it means that a lot of people are losing their lives. It’s tearing families apart and communities apart.


“As a mom with three school-aged kids, I can tell you that it’s terrifying – and I know that I’m not alone – and so I am appealing to my colleagues here on Capitol Hill that we must take action to protect our children. It’s estimated now that we’re losing one every seven minutes to fentanyl in the United States. This is a huge crisis.”

Sheriff John Nowels: “Just to give you some numbers related to Spokane County specifically, our Department of Health recorded a 186% increase in fentanyl-related overdoses between 2020 and 2021. Between 2017 and 2021, Spokane County alone saw a 1,233% increase in fentanyl-related overdoses – a 12 times increase in just four years – and we expect that we’ll have at least another 100% increase in fentanyl-related deaths in 2022. 

“That should paint a pretty grim picture about what’s happening in Spokane County, and I promise, it’s happening in every community across the state of Washington. Fentanyl is so inexpensive and so widely available that it is just flooding our communities.”

Securing the Southern Border

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: “As the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, we held a field hearing at the border. We were focusing on fentanyl and the staggering amount of fentanyl that is coming across the border right now. The open border policy by the Biden administration is putting Americans at risk in every town across this country.


“We spent time with Customs and Border Patrol – the agents on the ground and on the front lines. Then we went on a night tour to better understand and see firsthand what is happening on the Rio Grande River. I can tell you it was disturbing to me. We have a significant public health crisis on our hands.


“Since the beginning of 2023, DEA has seized 4.5 million fake pills laced with fentanyl and the Customs and Border Patrol has seized more than 1,400 pounds of fentanyl. There is enough fentanyl now in the United States to kill every single American – and as we were talking about earlier – that’s just the amount that’s been seized. So, how much have we missed? The southern border is 2,000 miles long. An open border policy has created this crisis in the United States of America that is really targeting our young people in particular that seem to be susceptible to fentanyl. 


They will tell you that what they are able to capture is through the official ports of entry. But as I said, they also are estimating that they’re only getting between 5% to 10% of the fentanyl that’s coming into the United States. You have official ports, but you also have a very long border along the southern part of the United States that has a lot of wide open spaces that is of grave concern to them.”


“We need to take action immediately. We need to get fentanyl-related substances scheduled as illegal in the United States. We need to support law enforcement, and we do need to do more to help those that are addicted or struggling with substance abuse. I worked on some legislation last year – bipartisan that we got signed into law. We’re going to do more this Congress because this is a crisis, and it’s impacting people in Eastern Washington, in Spokane … [and] all across the country.


“Ultimately, my goal as the Chair of Energy and Commerce is to find real solutions that are going to turn the tide of this crisis. We are working on legislation to halt fentanyl and permanently place fentanyl substances as a controlled substance in the United States – and I believe we need to do that permanently. The DEA administrator has told me the same thing – that we need this in place to really ensure that local law enforcement all across this country have the tools that they need to keep these poisons off the street.”

Sheriff Nowels: “In Spokane, specifically Washington state, 90 to 95% of all of our illicit drugs – and I would say almost 100% of our fentanyl – is coming across the southern border. That’s a well-established trafficking route. So no, there is no doubt in my mind that the issues going on at the southern border. It’s just wide-open trafficking at this point.


“I think the federal government absolutely has a role down on the border in making sure we are putting as much security in place down there to keep drug traffickers from bringing narcotics over the border. 


“I believe that if the federal government would impose minimum mandatory sentences on people who are distributing large quantities of fentanyl in our communities, that is going to be a huge deterrent. If a drug trafficker knows that they’re going to spend 15 years in prison if they are selling fentanyl in our communities, then they’re probably going to think twice about selling it. Let’s be serious about holding people accountable for distributing drugs that are absolutely killing people in our communities.”

Holding Big Tech Accountable

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: “Under section 230 – in the liability protections that our social media platforms enjoy today – they have a responsibility to be moderating, to be controlling the illegal, illicit material that’s on these platforms. They already should be subjected to that requirement. The story that you shared … is repeated way too many times. 


“A mom from Spokane that I’ve gotten to know, Molly, lost her 23-year old son Carson a couple of years ago. The day after Thanksgiving, he purchased on Snapchat a pill – thought it was Xanax – instead it was laced in fentanyl and he died. I’ve met with too many parents who are beating this drum … as to what’s going on on these social media platforms.


“We have the CEO of TikTok testifying in front of the Energy and Commerce Committee later on in March. This will be the first time that TikTok has been in front of a Congressional committee, and we are going to be asking him some really tough questions about what is happening on his platform. This must be an all-hands-on approach to prevent the sale and transfer of these illicit drugs on these platforms to protect our children.”


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