Portman: STOP Act Will Help Combat Heroin Epidemic

February 3, 2017 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night was a familiar sight on the Senate floor: U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivering remarks about the heroin and prescription drug epidemic affecting hundreds of thousands of his constituents and the constituents in the states of every one of his colleagues. Portman, who gave 29 floor speeches last year on the topic, is working tirelessly to full implement his bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), and his efforts are yielding results. If we fully implement “CARA in the coming months,” said Portman in his remarks, “we can then bring down the demand for these drugs and keep these poisons from coming into our communities.” In addition, following a new report on an influx of dangerous synthetic drugs from China, Portman urged his colleagues to take up his Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, to build on CARA by helping to stop these dangerous synthetic drugs from being brought into our communities.

Transcript of the speech can be found below and a video can be found here.

rise on the floor tonight to talk about a problem that is affecting every single one of the states represented in this chamber, and it’s one that folks I represent back home unfortunately are experiencing, and frankly we don’t talk enough about here on this floor and in Washington. It’s this epidemic of heroin and prescription drug abuse. How bad is it? We just learned very recently that for the first time in 23 years, life expectancy in the United States has gone down, and there is no question that the surge in heroin and prescription drug addiction is one of the main reasons for it. In fact, the demographic that saw the biggest drop in life expectancy was among middle-aged white women, the very group that has been hardest hit by the heroin and prescription drug epidemic and overdoses and overdose deaths. So unbelievably, this epidemic is actually driving down life expectancy in our great country.

“It’s been pretty dramatic. The number of heroin users in the United States has tripled since 2007. And hear this: the number of heroin overdoses has tripled just since 2012. It’s gotten to the point now where we’re losing one American life every 12 minutes to this epidemic. So during this talk today, which will be about 12 minutes, we expect another American to die of a heroin overdose. 

“Congress has begun to act, and I applaud the House and the Senate for that. We have acted over the last year to do a couple of things. One is that in the appropriations bill that passed at the end of last year, we put more money aside for treatment, so states are now receiving grants: $500 million this year, $500 million next year, and these grants are needed. It’s going to go, by the way, to the hardest hit states. It’s going to states based on their need which I think is very important because some states are hit harder than others. Unfortunately, my state -- my colleague from Ohio is here on the floor. He has been very involved in this issue as well. My state has been one of those states hardest hit. In fact, some think that Ohio now has the highest number of overdoses when you add prescription drugs, heroin and synthetic heroin like fentanyl. 

“Second, last summer Congress took what I think is the biggest step we have taken in a couple decades in terms of fighting this issue and that’s when we passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. The president signed it into law, and it’s already helping with regards to providing more prevention efforts, and also treatment, and also long-term recovery. It’s also helping our law enforcement and other first responders to be able to handle this growing crisis. We fully funded this Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, also called CARA, this year, and now we need to ensure that the new administration that’s just come in continues to effectively implement this program, as quickly as possible. 

“Just in the last few weeks, three of CARA’s grant programs got up and running. One is funding for drug courts. For those of you who are involved in drug courts back home, you already know this, but they’re a very effective way to take those who are in the criminal justice system who are there because of a drug issue—prescription drug, heroin issue in particular—and get them into a diversion program where they can get treatment, with the risk of going back to incarceration if they do not stay clean. This is really working well in some of our communities in Ohio and also using interesting new techniques including medication called Vivitrol to keep people off of their addiction. 

“Second, we have just put in place for the first time ever programs for recovery support services. Again in this legislation, CARA, we funded long-term recovery—so not just a detox center, not just a treatment center that might be short term, which they usually are, but this is longer term recovery—including getting people into sober housing, providing them with people who will support them and encourage them. We have found out that it keeps people from relapsing, and is incredibly powerful. 

“Third, there has been a grant to empower states and local governments to help fight this epidemic. This is all important, it’s real progress, but our work is far from done. In fact, there are five more CARA grant programs yet to be implemented. And again I call on the new administration to do so urgently. I know they are focused on this issue. We just need to get these programs up and going to be able to help our communities right now. 

“Near my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Winemiller family in Wayne Township had a pretty tough Christmas. They were missing a son and a daughter because of heroin. Over Easter weekend last year, Roger Winemiller found his daughter Heather dead of a heroin overdose in their bathroom. She left behind an 8-year-old son. Then just five days before Christmas, Heather’s brother Gene, a father of three children under 18, died of a heroin overdose. By the way, Gene started abusing painkillers when he was in his early 20s. He became addicted. And when the pills were too expensive, he switched to heroin, which is cheaper and really more accessible. By the way, this is unfortunately a fairly common story in my home state and around the country. We’re told this is how four out of five heroin addicts in the United States started on heroin prescription drugs. 

“Heather and Gene both got clean several times. Heather was clean for several years before she relapsed and died. These were vibrant people. They loved life. Heather loved gardening. She was a huge Ohio State Buckeyes fan. Gene loved rock music, hunting, and fishing. But they both made the tragic mistake of trying these drugs, and it changed their lives forever. Gene Winemiller’s funeral took place at Blanchester Church of Christ in Blanchester, Ohio. I know Blanchester, Ohio, pretty well. It’s a small community of about 4,000 people. The very next day, there was another funeral in that same church in this small town of 4,000 people for a heroin overdose. As Gene’s dad Roger puts it, ‘I can’t emphasize enough, no one,’ he says, ‘no one is immune from this epidemic.’ Unfortunately, he’s right. It knows no ZIP code. It’s in the rural areas. It’s in the suburban areas. It’s certainly in our inner cities. It is everywhere.

“Take Cleveland in northeast Ohio, for example. Cleveland Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson says that 2016 was an unprecedented year. The number of overdoses in Cleveland doubled in 2016 compared to 2015. Doubled. Overdoses are happening all over the Cleveland area. More than 150 heroin overdose deaths happened in the city and another 150 happened in the suburbs. Kind of evenly split. By the way, it was everybody: every group, every age group, African-American, white, Hispanic. 

“Take Dayton, Ohio, in southwest Ohio as another example. In Dayton last year, there were more than 2,500 overdoses. About seven a day. About half of the victims were men, about half were women. Some in the city, some in the suburbs, as I said. Some 60 percent were in their 30s or 40s. Forty percent were either younger or older than that. So this is happening all over our state and all over our country, cities, suburbs, inner cities, rural areas, rich and poor, old and young alike. In 2015, Ohio statewide experienced a record 3,050 overdose deaths, which is a 20 percent increase from 2014 and more than quadrupled the number of overdose deaths in 2000. In 2015, we lost an Ohioan every three hours to this epidemic. Sadly, the toll was higher in 2016. We don’t have the final numbers yet. 

“One of Ohio’s economic assets, of course, is our location. We’re centrally located. It’s great for transportation. Half of America’s consumers, they say, are within one day’s drive from Cincinnati and Cleveland and Columbus. But unfortunately that central location also makes us very vulnerable to drug traffickers. Last year, Ohio state troopers confiscated nearly 160 pounds of heroin. Depending on the potency, that could be equivalent to more than $50 million or 180,000 injections, by the way, of heroin. That’s nearly triple the amount of heroin seized the year before. Ohio highway patrol also confiscated record numbers of illegal painkillers and methamphetamines last year. We have to thank our law enforcement officers because they are saving lives every day by keeping this poison out of our communities, certainly, but also helping to reverse the overdoses with this miracle drug called Naloxone and Narcan. In 2015, the last year we have numbers for, 16,000 times Narcan was administered. Think about that. So 16,000 people were saved who could have died from an overdose thanks to our first responders, their professionalism. We don’t have numbers yet for 2016, but again, it’s going to be unfortunately far higher than that. 

“The Washington Post recently published a report on the heroin epidemic in Chillicothe, Ohio, where there were more than 300 overdoses last year. A single police officer, Officer Ben Rhodes, says that he used naloxone to reverse an overdose more than 50 times. One church in Chillicothe—Zion Baptist Church—recently had funerals for three overdose victims in one week. Again, I know Chillicothe. It’s a small town of 21,000 people. Heroin and prescription drug painkillers are flooding our communities to meet a rising demand. CARA, this legislation I talked about, will help reduce that demand by increasing access to treatment for those who need it, and preventing new addictions from starting in the first place through better prevention and education efforts. 

“After CARA became law, I introduced bipartisan legislation to take another step. This is called the Synthetic Trafficking Overdose Prevention Act, or the STOP Act. Again, it builds on CARA because it helps reduce the supply of drugs coming in to our communities. Some of the deadliest drugs coming into Ohio are synthetics, things like Fentanyl or Carfentanil, or U-4, essentially synthetic heroin that’s made in a laboratory somewhere. Guess where these drugs are coming from? Overseas. And, boy, they are incredibly powerful. Fentanyl can be more than 50 or 100 times as powerful as heroin. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, it takes about two milligrams to kill you. Carfentanil is even more powerful than that: up to 10,000 times as powerful as morphine. It’s so powerful that it’s used primarily has a tranquilizer for large animals, like elephants. 

“Heroin bought on the street today, in Ohio and elsewhere, is often laced with these drugs to make it more potent. Roger Winemiller, the dad I talked about a few moments ago who lost his two kids, compares buying heroin to playing Russian roulette because you never know the potency of the drug that you’re buying. And many of these spates of overdoses in our urban areas in Ohio are because of the mix with fentanyl and carfentanil. These fentanyl deaths in Ohio have increased nearly five-fold in the last three years. Three years ago we had about one in every 20 overdoses in Ohio because of fentanyl. Now it’s one in five. We expect it is soon to be one in three. You can see where this is going. 

“I talked a minute ago about the trafficking of drugs on our interstate highways. That’s a serious problem, but so is the problem of traffickers actually shipping these drugs through our mail system to our communities to meet this growing demand. Just yesterday the U.S-China Commission released a report about the trafficking of Chinese fentanyl into this country. The report says that ‘the majority of fentanyl products found in the United States originate in China. Chinese law enforcement officials have struggled to adequately regulate the thousands of chemical and pharmaceutical facilities, laboratories operating legally and illegally in the country, leading to increased production and export of illicit chemicals and drugs. Chinese chemical exporters covertly ship drugs to the Western Hemisphere.’ That’s from a report just yesterday. Right now these drugs are difficult to detect before it’s too late. Part of the reason is that unlike private carriers, like UPS or FedEx, the Postal Service does not require information about packages. If you are a private carrier, you have to have electronic customs data for packages coming into the country, saying where it’s from, what’s in it, where it’s going. This means the U.S. Postal service is a more attractive way for traffickers to get these dangerous drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil into our country.

“It shouldn’t this be way. It doesn’t have to be this way. The STOP Act would simply close that loophole and make the Postal Service require advanced electronic data. Where’s it coming from? What’s in it? Where’s it going? That information on these packages before they cross our borders would be incredibly helpful. It’s just common sense. It would help stop these dangerous synthetic drugs from being trafficked into the United States and it would save lives, and that’s what our law enforcement officials are telling us. 

“Mr. President, I know the scope of this epidemic is daunting. It is in your state of Indiana. It is in my state of Ohio, and its consequences are hard to even think about because it is about the overdose deaths but it is far more than that. It is about people not being able to live out their dreams. It is about higher costs for law enforcement. It is about crime. It is about our workforce and people not being able to go to work and not being able to find workers who are drug-free. It is about so much that affects our communities. And yet there is hope, and we have to work here in Congress to continue to promote legislation and policies that will help us to achieve the dream of turning this tide around. 

“The STOP Act that I talked about is going to help keep some of that poison out of our communities and increase the cost of heroin and that’s good. These increases in synthetic heroin abuse are really concerning. Treatment is incredibly important, and it can work. I’ve met so many people across Ohio who have beaten their addiction, people who are now back on their feet, back with their kids, back with their families. It’s hard, but with treatment and a supportive environment, particular with longer-term recovery, it can be done. 

“Last year I met with Aaron Marks in Columbus, Ohio at a conference held by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities. Aaron is from Cleveland, a suburb called Beachwood. He began using prescription pain pills as a freshman at Beachwood High School. He was just 13 years old. Again, a story that’s all too common. Often because of an accident or an injury, people start using these pain pills. He was smart, had good grades, and got into the University of Cincinnati, a great school. One day at U.C., he ran out of pills. A fellow student living in the same dorm room as him offered him something else. It was cheaper, he said. It was called heroin. He tried it. And soon he’d sold virtually everything he owned to buy more. But finally with the help of Glenbeigh Treatment Center in Cleveland, Ohio, he got clean and has stayed that way for more than a decade. Aaron is now a successful Manager of Business Development at American Express. You can have a lot more success stories like Aaron’s if we all engage, all of us. Washington, D.C. isn’t going to solve this problem. It will be solved in our communities; it’s going to be solved in our families; it’s going to be solved in our hearts. But Washington, D.C. can play a more constructive role. In passing this legislation, it makes sense to give people the tools they need to be able to fight this scourge. 

“The goal is to put the right policies in place, like the STOP Act, like fully funding treatment, like fully funding CARA in the coming months. We can then bring down the demand for these dangerous drugs and we can keep these poisons from coming into your communities. We can build on that progress Congress has made over the past year. Let’s not let up, Mr. President, until we finally turn the tide of this epidemic and begin to save lives. Thank you, I yield back.