Portman on the Senate Floor: With 72,000 Lives Lost Last Year, Action on the STOP Act is Critical
Portman’s STOP Act Included in Larger Opioid Package Approved by the Senate Tonight
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) again delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting the need to enact his bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act to help combat the growing influx of dangerous synthetic opioids in our communities. The Senate approved comprehensive opioid legislation tonight that includes a number of Portman’s priorities, including the STOP Act, a number of provisions from his bipartisan CARA 2.0 Act, and his CRIB Act, among others.
Said Portman in his speech: “It’s not a moment too soon. 72,000 lives lost last year, not just statistics. These are people with hopes, dreams, and families. We need to help those gripped by addiction break free from its grips. We need to give law enforcement the tools they need to stop these poisons from infiltrating our country and commit ourselves to additional resources at the federal level that can help our states, local communities, and the private sector respond. The comprehensive opioid legislation that we’re voting on today, including the STOP Act and more, will help do just that.”
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here:
“My colleague from Maryland spoke earlier about the opioid crisis and the fact that we’re about to vote on legislation called the Opioid Crisis Response Act, and he talked about some of the innovations going on in the state of Maryland. We are fortunate in my home state of Ohio to have some great work going on as well. The stabilization centers he talked about, we now have in Ohio the opportunity for people who are treated for addiction, who are given this miracle drug, Narcan, which reverses the effects of the overdose, to be able to not just go to an emergency room where they can be taken care of for this reversal of the overdose, but also get into treatment.
“The Maryhaven Addiction Stabilization Center in Columbus, Ohio, has become a model not just for Ohio but for the country, and one of the early centers where they have taken some of the federal funds we have passed here and are using them to come up with innovative ways to get people into treatment. Their success rate is over 80 percent, which unfortunately is not true with regard to other instances where someone is given this Narcan issued by a first responder or in an emergency room setting and does not go into treatment, rather goes back to the environment and the old community or the gang where the addiction happened in the first place. Then in so many instances first responders are called again and sometimes again and again to provide that Narcan to the same individual. That’s not helping anyone. It’s certainly not helping that individual and taking this disease of addiction and dealing with it in a serious way.
“The stabilization centers are a great idea, and we’re starting to do some of these things back home in an innovative way that’s going to help us turn the tide. And this legislation that we’re voting on tonight will help in that regard because it provides additional funding and additional help for some of these new approaches that we badly need. Sadly, despite some progress, based on legislation we passed here about a year and a half ago, the CARA Act and CURES Act, which we’ll talk about in a moment, things are not getting better. In fact, they are getting worse.
“Every state in this chamber has been affected by this issue. This chart behind me shows those states which last year had an increase in overdoses from opioids and other drugs. If you had an increase, you’re in orange. If you had a decrease, you’re in blue. Sadly, as you can see, states, including my home state of Ohio and the presiding member’s home state of Iowa, saw an increase. In fact, overall there was about a 9 percent increase in deaths—overdose deaths last year in America, based on the Centers for Disease Control data we got about a month ago, was 72,000 people. Think about that. That’s of course more individuals than we lost in the Vietnam War. 72,000 means that this is the number-one cause of death now in America for those under the age of 50. In my home state of Ohio it’s the number-one cause of death, period.
“So we are in a crisis. We are in an epidemic. Despite new innovations going on back in our states, we continue to see these grim records year after year. We need to reverse this, and tonight’s legislation will help do that. Franklin County, Ohio, which is in the center of Ohio near the Columbus area, as an example, just in the past nine days recently experienced 29 overdose deaths. You know what the coroner said? The coroner said this spike was caused by a synthetic drug called fentanyl. It is about 50 times more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is the number one killer. We need people to get into treatment and we need to do more to keep this fentanyl, this new scourge, out of our communities. This legislation will do both of those things.
“This is consensus legislation. There are five committees that were able to provide input for this legislation. They had public hearings. They contributed ideas to it. That includes the HELP Committee, Judiciary, Finance, Commerce, and Banking committees. I want to particularly applaud the HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, because he pulled together all these ideas from these four or five different committees and helped us come up with this consensus package. I’d like to thank Majority Leader McConnell and Democratic Leader Schumer for agreeing to bring this legislation to the floor tonight. It doesn’t include everything all of us want to see but it has important new initiatives and it’s a step in the right direction.
“I know at least one issue we couldn’t include in this broader package is the arbitrary cap that’s in place in so many treatment centers. They’re capped at 16 beds for Medicaid reimbursement, which is really a vestige of a previous policy to get people out of institutional care, mostly mental health focused, but it’s having an effect now in this opioid crisis we talked about, because people who are ready to get into treatment are told there is no room. This is for residential treatment. We have a solution to it. We are introducing legislation on that tomorrow. We are told that in conference we can try to work something out because the House has legislation that addresses this. I appreciate Senator Alexander’s willingness to do that. Senator Cardin, who was on the floor earlier, and I talked about this. He’s part of a bipartisan group that is putting our ideas out there to allow these good treatment centers to be able to take in more people without an arbitrary cap.
“This package builds on the two legislative projects I talked about earlier, the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act and the 21st Century CURES legislation. The CARA legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, provides resources directly to evidence-based programs that are working. Prevention, treatment, longer-term recovery, helping our first responders. The CURES legislation, 21st Century CURES, doesn’t go straight to the groups, the organizations, the nonprofits. It goes to the states and the states decide how that money is spent. These laws are beginning to make a difference in the lives of people we represent, helping these communities to be able to push back and fight and try new things. Even before those bills passed, we got together, some of us here in this chamber, to talk about how do we ensure we have the adequate resources to be able to take on this issue. Also in our appropriations bills, these bills are being funded—in fact, above the amount we approved here or authorized. That’s good.
“In about 2015, so just a few years ago, we began to see this fentanyl issue rise up. In my home state of Ohio by the summer of 2016 it had invaded our state at crisis levels. In 2015, we had over 1,000 deaths. 2,350 deaths last year. Fentanyl was responsible for more than half of those people who died of overdoses in my state last year. 2017 numbers are coming in, and I’m hearing it will be about two-thirds of the deaths in Ohio, as we continue to hear numbers for this year, 2018. So this trend of increasing fentanyl overdoses rings true all around the country.
“Fentanyl overdoses nationally reached nearly 30,000 last year. That means they’ve increased by 850 percent just in the four years between 2013 and 2017. Between 2013 and 2017 we’ve seen an 850 percent increase in overdoses due to this one drug. The synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Here’s a chart that talks about this a little bit. It shows that with regard to some drugs, as tragic as the overdose rates are, it’s pretty flat going from 2015 to 2018. This is the new scourge of the opioid epidemic. It is 50 times more potent than heroin. It is relatively inexpensive on the streets, relatively accessible. As a result many traffickers turned to this. In fact, fentanyl is being spread into other drugs. Heroin is being laced with fentanyl. Cocaine is being laced with fentanyl. Even crystal meth. This increases the potency of those drugs, increases the chance of addiction. With the rise of fentanyl, of course, we’re seeing more and more deaths because of its power. And we are also seeing that no street drug is safe from potential offender and a death.
“I heard a couple tragic examples during our two tele-town hall meetings. The first case was last month, Sam from Shelby County talked about fentanyl issue. He was talking about it very objectively and policy-wise, and then his voice changed and the emotion was clear. And I asked him if he had any family relationships with this drug and he acknowledged his son died from a fentanyl overdose. His son died a few weeks before the call. His son didn’t know he was taking fentanyl because it had been laced with another drug. Last month Pauline from Zanesville called in and told me her brother had passed away. He was a heroin addict, but he had no idea he was taking fentanyl. It was laced in the heroin and he overdosed and died. In both of those cases, they weren’t using it knowingly but the autopsy revealed it was fentanyl.
“This is happening across our country. This growing trend is why a couple years ago we began looking into fentanyl and seeing what can we do about it. I see Senator McCaskill is on the floor, she was a part of it, but we conducted an investigation into this under the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, PSI, and said how can this be happening in our country? We found out something shocking, which is it is primarily produced in laboratories in China and primarily coming into the United States through the United States mail system, our own government agency, Postal Service.
“Our investigators identified how easy it was to get these drugs into the United States. We had an undercover operation where we posed as buyers. Based on that, we found out that these overseas sellers essentially guaranteed delivery if the fentanyl was delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. If you sent it through a private carrier it was not guaranteed, like FedEx, UPS, DHL or one of those. If you sent it through the Post Office, they guaranteed delivery. Why is that? Well, because the Postal Service has a weaker screening policy than these private carriers, and that’s because of Congress. After 9/11, Congress said to the private carriers you’ve got to have a better screening policy, including providing advance electronic information to law enforcement officers on every package that comes into America. Now they were doing it for other contraband and explosives more than fentanyl, but that is being effective now because law enforcement and Customs and Border Protection can identify these packages. Otherwise it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Think about that. You need this data. And law enforcement uses it, and I’ve seen them do it.
“I’ve gone to their distribution centers and seen how they pull things off. They put on protective gear to be able to open these packages because this fentanyl is so deadly. The information tells them where it’s from, what’s in it, where it’s going. They then use big data to identify suspicious packages and keep some of this deadly drug out of our communities. The law does not require the Post Office to do that. We at least have to know that—what’s in these packages coming into our country so law enforcement can stop some of this poison that’s overtaking our communities and robbing thousands and thousands of Americans of their God-given purpose in life. It’s not to be an addict. It’s not to overdose and die. We can help.
“The STOP Act, legislation I authored with my colleague Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, is included in this larger opioid package we’re going to vote on this evening. The STOP Act does just that. It closes this loophole to say to these traffickers, you’re not going to be able to continue to exploit our U.S. Postal Service to ship your fentanyl into America. It’s a common-sense solution. It deals with the most deadly aspect of the opioid epidemic. It requires the Postal Service to get this data—100 percent from China now—70 percent for the rest of the world by the end of this year and by 2020, 100 percent every package.
“This is not only going to stop the flow of so much of this poison coming into our communities, it will reduce the supply and raise the cost, which is part of the issue with the accessibility of fentanyl. Once enacted into law, it will help. Tonight is an opportunity for us to vote on this package. The House and the Senate package is identical. If we vote on it tonight and get it passed, it will go to the president for his signature and it will help.
“Is it all we need to do? No. We also need to continue to fund CARA and CURES to deal with the demand side of this. In other words, the prevention side, the treatment, the longer-term recovery. This legislation also has a number of initiatives in that area. Some were talked about earlier, others were not. It builds on the CARA 2.0 legislation that we introduced recently, which was the next step after the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act. One thing it has in this bill from CARA 2.0 is a national quality standard and best practices for recovery housing. Yes, recovery housing and sober living is very important but there has been too many examples of housing that has not had this quality you would expect, even allowing drug use within that recovery housing. It ensures people who are transitioning out of treatment into longer-term recovery, they’re going to have high quality options.
“The legislation authorizes support for high school and college students to help children and young adults recover from substance abuse disorders. We have some amazing models in Ohio on this. The Collegiate Recovery Community at Ohio State is an example. Columbus is opening its first recovery high school next year.
“CARA 2.0’s contribution to the opioid legislation also includes help for the most vulnerable among us, the babies. There is $60 million for a plan of safe care for babies born dependent on drugs. This provides treatment to babies born with something called neonatal abstinence syndrome. Their mothers are addicted and they develop dependency in the womb. These babies have to be taken through the process of withdrawal. I’ve been to neonatal units around our state to see these babies. It is a sad and tragic thing to see. We need more help to ensure these babies get the care they need to be able to get through this withdrawal process.
“To help newborn babies further, the legislation also includes the CRIB Act, bipartisan legislation I co-authored that will help newborns suffering from addiction recover in the best setting possible and provide support for their families. The CRIB Act says they can be reimbursed for providing the love and care that these babies need at this time. It’s a very sad situation. I see it across my state. But I also see it across the country. There is a great group called Bridget’s Path in Dayton, Ohio where they provide love and care and support for these babies, but they get no reimbursement for it. This is an opportunity to provide as much treatment and care necessary to help these children achieve their potential in life. The CRIB Act, the $60 million in funding to help babies born dependent on drugs, it will help, it will help these kids in need.
“There are a number of other important programs that will be reauthorized in this program, including the Drug Courts, Drug-Free Community Act, the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to help law enforcement push back against the drug traffickers. As we pass this legislation, as we did two years ago with the passage of CARA and CURES, Congress is committing itself to actually putting politics aside. It’s not just bipartisan, I think it’s nonpartisan, in dealing with the real epidemic out there and helping the people that need it.
“It’s not a moment too soon. 72,000 lives lost last year, not just statistics. These are people with hopes, dreams, and families. We need to help those gripped by addiction break free from its grips. We need to give law enforcement the tools they need to stop these poisons from infiltrating our country and commit ourselves to additional resources at the federal level that can help our states, local communities, and the private sector respond. The comprehensive opioid legislation that we’re voting on today, including the STOP Act and more, will help do just that.”