Melinda Smyser

Melinda Smyser took over as the director of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy in January.

BOISE — A joint memorial calling on President Donald Trump to combat the importation of fentanyl and other powerful opioids into the United States is headed to the full House.

The House Health and Welfare Committee voted unanimously to advance the proposal, which expresses gratitude to Trump and Idaho's congressional delegation for what they have already done and asking Trump to step up diplomatic efforts to combat foreign opioid importers.

The joint memorial’s sponsor Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said opioids coming to Idaho often arrive via either the highways in the Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls areas.

“Those two interstates seem to be (causing) a lot of the opioid trafficking and illegal drug trafficking,” she said.

Drug overdose deaths have generally been going up in Idaho and nationally over the past decade, with opioids involved in the majority of these deaths, although the number of overdoses in Idaho did drop slightly in 2017. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that can be used to cut heroin, is behind an increasing number of these deaths. While the patterns in Idaho are somewhat different than those seen nationally — fentanyl is driving a bigger percentage of opioid deaths nationally than here, where prescription pills are still more common — both fentanyl and heroin do seem to be getting more common in Idaho. 

Melinda Smyser, head of the state Office of Drug Policy, read the committee news stories about rising heroin seizures and arrests in Nampa and overdoses in Pocatello. Fentanyl, she said, is particularly dangerous since people can absorb small amounts through their skin, threatening not only drug users but first responders who might have to deal with them.

“We are starting to see the effects of the more dangerous drug infiltrating our state,” she said.

Numerous high school students visiting the Capitol happened to be in the committee room, and several lawmakers noted that and urged the students not to use drugs.

“You kids need to pay attention to this,” said Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston. “You need to really think about what you ingest in your system."

Rep. Tim Remington, R-Coeur d'Alene, said youth opioid use is a growing problem.

“We are losing them right and left to opiates,” he said. “Methamphetamines, at least they didn’t die off of methamphetamine all the time, but they just became so lethargic and sick, it was ridiculous. But opiates kill.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.