Portman Op-Ed for Columbus Dispatch: “OSU Deaths Example of Terrifying Rise of Counterfeit Drugs. National Action Needed.”

May 24, 2022 | Portman Difference

In a new op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch, Senator Portman discusses the deadly opioid epidemic that continues to tear apart families across the nation. Portman brings specific attention to the recent deaths of two students from The Ohio State University who tragically overdosed on pills they thought were Adderall, but were poisoned with the fatal synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

As Portman discusses in the op-ed, Congress can do much more to ensure our streets, neighborhoods, and communities are safe from this drug. Portman noted that besides legislative action to curb the treatment of addiction through telehealth, and nationwide addiction programs, we cannot ignore where the drugs are coming from: our Southern border.

Portman closes by asking Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass his bipartisan CARA 3.0, FIGHT Fentanyl Act, and TREATS Act legislation, which expands our health care and justice system’s scope to ensure that all Americans fighting addiction have the chance to overcome this disease, and those who sell synthetic opioids are punished.

Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found here.

OSU deaths example of terrifying rise of counterfeit drugs. National action needed.
By U.S. Senator Rob Portman
The Columbus Dispatch

We have a surging epidemic of drug overdoses in Ohio and across the country that has resulted in a record number of overdose deaths and it threatens to get even worse if we don’t act. According to the Ohio Department of Health in 1999, there were 327 overdose deaths in Ohio. In 2021, Ohio is set to report more than 5,200.  Nationwide, the numbers are just as discouraging.

According to data just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 107,622 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. last year, the largest number ever recorded in a calendar year. The biggest culprit, by far, is the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, a lethal dosage of which is equivalent in size to a few grains of salt.  Unfortunately, many don’t even know they are taking fentanyl since it’s so easy to disguise as another drug.

Based on media accounts, three Ohio State University students recently overdosed taking counterfeit medication that was laced with fentanyl; two of them died. That’s not all. According to the Mental Health, Addiction and Recovery Services Board of Lorain County, 27 overdoses were reported in just the first two weeks of May.  On April 6, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned of a nationwide spike in fentanyl-related mass-overdose events, which expands an earlier warning about fake prescription pills containing fentanyl. It’s the first time in more than six years this type of alert was issued.

To address this crisis, the country needs a robust response that addresses both the demand and supply side of the problem. First, on the supply side we must address the amount of fentanyl that is surging across the southern border. Simply put, the Biden administration must take action to stop the fentanyl coming into our country through our ports and other drug smuggling operations.  A less secure southern border means more fentanyl is coming across too. This past April, a record 1,300 pounds of fentanyl were seized — the highest amount ever in a single month. In 2021 seizures of fentanyl doubled the 2020 amounts and quadrupled the seizures from 2019, but that’s only the fentanyl that’s being seized. According to the DEA, the vast majority of fentanyl is getting through undetected.

On the demand side, my Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and CARA 2.0, have provided state and local government and nonprofit groups with support for proven prevention, recovery, and treatment programs to help addicted individuals heal. In addition, strengthening telehealth services can help provide a lifeline for those struggling with opioid addiction.  According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 2.5 million Americans had opioid use disorder in 2020 and 11 percent of them received MAT, or medication-assisted treatment.. I want to do away with this in-person requirement entirely, which is why I have introduced bipartisan legislation called the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act to fix this problem and expand telehealth services for substance use disorder treatment.

Finally, we need to prosecute those who are responsible for selling these drugs. My bipartisan FIGHT Fentanyl Act would fix this problem by permanently classifying fentanyl-related drugs as Schedule I. This would allow law enforcement to prosecute those who deal not just fentanyl for drugs that are changed just slightly to appear as fentanyl. As Ohio continues to face rising levels of opioid abuse and overdoses, we must double down on the risks of fentanyl being masked as prescription drugs. Congress can and should further address this epidemic by passing my CARA 3.0, FIGHT Fentanyl Act, and TREATS legislation, which expands our health care and justice system’s scope to ensure that all Americans fighting addiction have the chance to overcome this disease, and those who sell synthetic opioids are punished. Together, we can ensure Ohioans have access to the care they need, so no more innocent lives are lost.