Portman: Growing Problem of Synthetic Opioids Underscores Need for STOP Act

May 22, 2017 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) returned to the Senate floor today to urge his colleagues to act quickly on his bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, citing the growing problem of the synthetic heroins fentanyl and carfentanil in Ohio and around the country. Portman gave examples of the devastation these drugs are having in our communities, including putting police officers—and everyone else—who comes into contact with these drugs at risk. With his Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) being implemented by the administration, it is time, Portman says, for Congress to take further action and pass this much-needed legislation that will help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers here in the United States

A transcript of the speech can be found below and you can watch the video here.

“I came to the floor last week to talk about our police officers. It was during Police Week and we talked about the bravery and heroism of our officers back home. I talked about some stories—tragic stories—of police officers who were gunned down in the line of duty, and talked about what they do for us every day. 

“Today I want to talk about an issue that is actually endangering their lives and the lives of so many in our communities but specifically law enforcement, and this happens in every single state represented in this chamber. This danger is this new epidemic of synthetic heroin, of opioids. Heroin and prescription drugs we know more about, but now you have these synthetic heroins coming in that are even more powerful. 

“So being a police officer has always been a tough job. But it’s becoming riskier today because of this. Some people have heard of it as carfentanil or fentanyl or U4. Most of this poison coming into our communities is coming in the mail system, it’s coming from overseas—primarily from China, where they have laboratories where some evil scientist is mixing up this chemical mix and sending it over here into our communities.

“Let me tell you a story that happened just last Friday in East Liverpool, Ohio. Some of you may know the name East Liverpool because it was the same city where there was a photograph that went viral on the internet that was a photo of a couple that had overdosed in the front of their car with their 3-year-old grandson in a car seat behind them. It showed the grandson and it showed the two who had overdosed passed out in the front of the car. Anyways, in this same town in Ohio, an officer by the name of Chris Green pulled over a car in a routine traffic stop. As he came up to the car, he noticed there was white powder sprinkled around the car. He took the appropriate precautions; he put on his gloves, he put on a mask, and he began to deal with the situation at hand. These people in the car apparently had spread the powder in order to try to avoid it being detected. But it was easily detectable. At the end of his arrest process, there was a small amount of powder, a small amount of powder that was left on his jacket, which he did not notice. 

“He went back to the police station and when he got there he noticed the powder on his shirt and instinctively he went like this to get the powder off of his shirt. This small amount of powder touching his hand caused him to overdose. Now, Officer Green is not a small guy. He’s about 6’3", 225 pounds. He’s a big, strong police officer who just by trying to get a few flakes of powder off of his jacket overdosed. Why? Because this fentanyl is so powerful. It is so deadly. 

“Fortunately, his fellow police officers were able to save his life with naloxone, a miracle drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. It is being used on our streets every single day to save people from dying from overdoses. In this case, it was used to keep a police officer who was doing his duty and who had simply tried to get a few flakes off his uniform from dying of an overdose.

“East Liberty Police Chief John Lane put it this way. He said that ‘if he had been alone, he’d be dead. That’s how dangerous this stuff is.’ Chief Lane later made the point that if Officer Green had gone home in that shirt and unknowingly had this powder on his shirt or jacket, he could have endangered the lives of his family. That’s a scary thought and obviously that’s true. That’s how deadly these drugs are. It only takes a few milligrams, just a few specks, to kill you. 

“This chart will show you how much it takes. Ten milligrams of carfentanil is powerful now sedate a 15,000-pound elephant. And here is the carfentanil over here. You’ll see why a fatal dose can be a very, very small amount. 30 milligrams for heroin. For fentanyl, three milligrams. And for carfentanil, even less than three milligrams. 

“For those of you at home, if you want to take out a penny. If you look at the penny, you’ll see Abraham Lincoln’s profile on one side of it. The deadly dose of fentanyl that we’re talking about here is enough to only cover up basically the face of Abraham Lincoln on a penny. That’s how little we’re talking about and how deadly this stuff is. You can see why our law enforcement officers are so concerned about this. 

“Officer Green is not the only one to experience this by the way. There was a famous case in 2015 where two officers in Atlantic County, New Jersey—Detective Dan Kallen and Detective Eric Price—overdosed on fentanyl just by breathing fentanyl in the air at a crime scene. 

“As some of you have heard, this fentanyl is so danger you they’re afraid to use dogs to try to sniff it out because just by trying to sniff these packages to see whether fentanyl is included in them, the dogs could also overdose and die. So this fentanyl is dangerous stuff. And by the way it’s taking up more and more of the resources of our police officers and other first responders. 

“Earlier this year I came to the floor and talked about Officer Ben Rhoads of Chillicothe, Ohio. Last year Officer Rhodes reversed more than 50 drug overdoses. This is one officer in one small town. Talk to the fire fighters in your community and ask them whether they go on more fire runs or more fentanyl/carfentanil overdose runs. I almost guarantee you they go on more overdose runs. And as a result, in some communities, those firefighters are not there to be able to protect us as you would typically think from the fires that still continue to be a major problem. 

“So this is a real issue, taking up more and more of their time, more and more resources and causing more and more crime. On Thursday in Middletown, Ohio, which is a town in southern Ohio, a family was getting ready to leave the house. In fact they’d already strapped their 3-month-old baby into a car seat. And it’s not clear whether they had shot up with heroin before they put the baby in the car seat or after, but they went back in the house and they overdosed in the house. So they have the baby in the car seat. They’ve overdosed in the home. They have another son who is five years old. He runs out of the house barefoot, goes to a neighbor’s house, goes to his step-grandfather’s home, which is a few blocks away, and yells at the door, ‘mom and dad are dead. Mom and dad are dead.’ The step-grandfather called the police and they rushed over to the scene. They were able to revive the boy’s dad with naloxone. They used seven doses of naloxone on the mother, but she still couldn’t wake up. And from talking to police officers about this, they tell me that’s a very good sign that this involved fentanyl. Perhaps carfentanil. Because after two, three, four, five, six, seven doses of it she still could not be revived. Fortunately, police rushed her to the hospital where they were finally able to bring her back. 

“But, again, this is what police officers are facing every day, in my home state of Ohio, in your state, in your community. After this incident, the Middletown police said on Facebook, ‘it has to stop. Please get help before it’s too late. Not only to save yourself but to save your kids. Give these kids a chance by getting help. If you or someone you love has a drug problem, please seek help right now.’ This is a cry from our police officers saying, this just can’t continue. Talk to the firefighters or the police officers who administer naloxone to the same individual time and time again after overdose and overdose. 

“These brave officers—and police officers around the country—are feeling overwhelmed. It’s the number one cause now of accidental death in the United States of America. That is, drug overdoses. It has now surpassed car accidents. It has way surpassed gun violence. In the last three years more Americans have died from drug overdoses than died in the Vietnam War. More Americans are dying of drug overdoses now than died from AIDS at the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1995. So this year, in 2017, more people will die from drug overdoses from opioids than died from AIDS at its peak in 1995, another tragedy. 

“According to an article in The New York Times, more than four times the number of people are dying every day from this epidemic than were dying at the peak of the crack cocaine epidemic. So when I say it is the worst crisis we’ve faced in this country and that it’s an epidemic, it is not overstating it. 

“The Fraternal Order of Police and the Major County Sheriffs of America are actually focused on this issue and they want better tools to be able to at least try to stop some of this poison, the fentanyl, the carfentanil from coming into our communities. I mentioned earlier the fact that this actually comes by the mail system. Unbelievable. And it doesn’t come by all mail systems. It comes by the U.S. Mail system, as opposed to the private carriers like FedEx or U.P.S. or DHL or others. One reason is because our mail system in the United States does not require the kind of advanced notice of where the package is from, what’s in it, where is it going that the private carriers require. So where do the traffickers go? They go to our mail service: the U.S. Postal Service and the postal service in the country that interacts with and connects with our postal service. 

“This is why the Fraternal Order of Police and the Major County Sheriffs of America and those in law enforcement are saying help us by passing legislation called the STOP Act. The STOP Act is to help stop traffickers from bringing these deadly poisons into our communities, the kind of stuff that caused Officer Green to overdose. Fentanyl and these other synthetic drugs are not just coming in from overseas, they’re coming in through our mail system. What we’re saying in the STOP Act is let’s close the loophole. Let’s say that the mail system here in the United States has to say the same thing that other private carriers say to the carriers, which is if you want to ship something through our system, that is fine, but you’ve got to tell us what’s in it, you’ve got to tell us where it’s from and where it’s going. Otherwise they just can’t effectively stop these packages. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. I talked earlier about the difficulty in detecting these drugs and how poisonous this is, and how sniffing dogs can’t be used because of the potential of them overdosing and dying. It’s also very difficult for our officers to find these packages without some information.

“Expert testimony, including from the Secretary of Homeland Security, General Kelly, from Customs and Border Protection, from the folks at D.E.A. all reaches the same conclusion, which is that this policy change would make it easier for law enforcement to detect suspicious packages of fentanyl, carfentanil, other synthetic drugs and help keep this poison out of our country. 

“Support for this legislation is bipartisan and growing. We’ve now got 16 cosponsors in the Senate, eight Democrats, eight Republicans, completely bipartisan. In the House, Congressman Pat Tiberi of Ohio and Richard Neal of Massachusetts, Republican and Democrat, have introduced companion legislation. They now have 128 cosponsors. Support is building. It’s such an obvious way to help push back. 

“Is it the silver bullet? No. There is not one silver bullet. We do need to do more in terms of prevention and treatment and recovery and help our law enforcement more to ensure they have that naloxone to be able to save lives. But at least let’s stop some of this poison coming in and let’s at least increase the cost of the fentanyl because one reason you see this big increase in overdoses from fentanyl and carfentanil and traffickers using more of it is because of the cost. And at the very least by helping our law enforcement, giving them the tools that they need, we can stop some of it and increase the cost of this on the streets. 

“So I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the STOP Act. We have a hearing on this legislation on Thursday of this week in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. We have experts coming in, law enforcement officers who care a lot about their colleagues. I talked about what a danger this is to them, what a danger this is to our community. It’s time for us in the United States Senate to stand up and to take this important step—not the silver bullet but an important step--to be able to help save lives and make our communities safer.”