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Sen. Casey calls for anti-fentanyl measures of foreign aid bill to pass in the House

Sen. Bob Casey touts the anti-fentanyl bill that was passed in the Senate along with aid to Ukraine and Israel.
Oliver Morrison
/
90.5 WESA
Sen. Bob Casey touts the anti-fentanyl bill that was passed in the Senate along with aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Legislation that could reduce the amount of fentanyl in Western Pennsylvania has passed the United States Senate and is currently awaiting action in the House of Representatives. But most people aren’t even aware it’s being held up, according to Sen. Bob Casey.

That’s because the FEND Off Fentanyl Act was tacked onto a larger spending package that would provide military support to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. The foreign aid package passed the Senate with 70 votes, and Casey believes it has enough support in the House to pass as well.

“I don't think there's any question it'll pass if it gets to a vote,” Casey said at a press conference at the Allegheny County Police headquarters on Monday. “The question is, will the speaker [Mike Johnson] hold it up for some bizarre reason? We'll see what happens.”

If the bill became law, it would declare the national opioid epidemic a national emergency, require the federal government to sanction drug traffickers, and give the Treasury Department additional ways of combating money laundering by drug traffickers. The hope is to make it more difficult for fentanyl to find its way from China and Mexico onto the streets of Allegheny County, where Casey said more than 700 people died of an overdose in the most recent 12-month period for which there is data.

Supporters of the legislation said it could help save the lives of people like Zack Heidish. His mother, Peggy, said on Monday that he was on the long road to recovery, between in-patient and out-patient programs, when he died of an overdose last July.

Heidish worked for a decade as a safety officer and was not the kind of person who many people would’ve suspected of having an addiction, she said.

“He was supportive of his family, of his friends, of his neighbors. He was fun. He was loving. He was a very gentle soul,” she said. “And it turns out, I've come to realize that is a description of so many people who have been pulled into substance abuse.”

Peggy Heidish spoke about her son Zack's opioid overdose death at a press conference touting new measures that would allow the federal government to crack down on fentanyl dealers.
Oliver Morrison
/
90.5 WESA
Peggy Heidish spoke about her son Zack's opioid overdose death at a press conference touting new measures that would allow the federal government to crack down on fentanyl dealers.

Heidish said it’s normal for someone like her son to relapse on their way to recovery, but she said that doesn’t always happen with fentanyl: “No one makes it through recovery when they’re dead.”

Because the FEND Off Fentanyl Act is tied to the larger aid package, it’s become subject to some of the politicking that has held up aid to Ukraine and Israel, which Democrats have largely supported, but which has divided Republicans. With the House of Representatives in recess, the White House says there are benefits that, as with Casey’s fentanyl proposals, simply aren’t being discussed.

Republican wariness of supporting Ukraine has grown since the 2022 invasion, with some suggesting the aid should be structured as a loan. Biden Administration officials have argued that the aid benefits defense workers in the United States first. Pennsylvania stands to see nearly $430 million in activity to ramp up manufacturing activity.

“So much of the spending to help Ukraine is actually one here at home [and] Pennsylvania actually has a huge piece of the pie on this,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

Casey, meanwhile, is also trying to call attention to the benefit of another bill, Stop Fentanyl at the Border. That measure would provide additional funds for border control agents, as well as $1 billion for advanced equipment that would scan vehicles for fentanyl.

“They can find fentanyl in a compartment. They can find it almost anywhere in a car. They can find it in a car tire,” he said. “This is remarkable technology that is available, but it costs money and we have to have that at the border.”

Casey spoke Monday in the same room of the Allegheny County Police headquarters where he spoke in four months ago, before the FEND Off Fentanyl Act had passed the Senate. At the time, Janet Morrison-Heberling spoke about her daughter, who died in 2022 of an overdose. Morrison-Heberling spoke again on Monday.

“I said at the last press conference to so many people that the senator is listening to us,” she said. “And today I can say, Senator Casey showed us he is a man of his word.”

Chris Potter contributed reporting to this story.

Oliver Morrison