On the Senate Floor, Portman Discusses Opioid Epidemic, His Two Bipartisan Bills to Help Turn the Tide of Addiction
STOP Act Will Help Keep More Synthetic Drugs Out of U.S., CARA 2.0 Will Help Provide Comprehensive Treatment To Help People Overcome Addiction
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor yesterday discussing the nature of the opioid epidemic gripping Ohio—and our country—and two of his bills that will give law enforcement and affected communities the tools to combat this crisis. He discussed his bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, legislation designed to help combat addiction on the front end by giving law enforcement the tools to identify and stop dangerous synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers here in the United States. Portman also discussed the CARA 2.0 Act. This bill will build on the success of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), provide additional resources to help turn the tide of addiction, and put in place policy reforms that will strengthen the federal government’s response to this crisis.
A full transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I come to the floor today to talk about an issue that has gripped my state of Ohio—and all of the states represented in this chamber, and that is the opioid epidemic. This is prescription drugs and heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil. It is something that we have talked about on this floor more in the last couple years than we have really in the history of this body and we’ve passed some good legislation, but boy, there’s so much more to do. Sadly, this crisis continues to unfold and, at least in my state and I believe in most states in the country, it is getting worse, not better. So, we’ve started taking some important actions, but it’s time to take more.
“Just last week, a couple in Youngstown, Ohio, were sentenced for reckless homicide and endangering children after their 16-month-old daughter overdosed and died. She was exposed to carfentanil, one of these synthetic forms of opioids that unfortunately has come into so many communities in this country, and in fact is the biggest single concern we have right now in Ohio and many other states.
“In fact in Ohio, we’ve had an increase in overdoses from last year and 60 percent of those overdoses were from fentanyl or carfentanil, this synthetic form of opioids that was hardly present five years ago. As we made progress on prescription drugs, heroin came in. As we made progress on heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil came in. That’s the latest poison, and there’s a need for us to push back and push back hard. Overdose are now the number one cause of death in my home state of Ohio. It’s the number one cause for accidental death in the United States of America. You think about that, how many people are being affected by this. And it’s across the board, it knows no zip code. It’s not just in the urban areas, it’s not just in the rural areas, it’s in the suburban areas, it’s everywhere. It’s something that, we can make a difference on, and I’ve seen some programs that are actually working well to turn the tide and push back.
“One I will mention is funded in part from legislation we passed in this chamber just a year and a half ago. It's in Columbus, Ohio, the Maryhaven Addiction Stabilization Center. It's an attempt by Franklin County, which is largely Columbus, Ohio, to come together and say, 'we've got to do something here to get more people who have overdosed into treatment.' Because one of the many challenges we face in this crisis is the gaps. And one huge gap is the fact that people who overdose have had their lives saved through this miracle drug called Narcan which reverses the effects of an overdose, but then after coming out of their overdose, getting conscious again, they simply go back into the community and back to the environment that created this potential overdose situation in the first place. So once again, a week later perhaps, maybe days later, in some cases hours later, the person may overdose again. The answer is not just applying Narcan—as important as it is—because we do need to save lives. The important thing is to then get that person into a program where they can begin to deal with their addiction, where they can get the support longer term through a recovery program to stay away from the old environment and the old gang that got them involved in this issue perhaps in the first place.
“Addiction is a disease. Treatment is required just as it would be for other diseases. So I’m excited about what's happening at Maryhaven Addiction Stabilization Center because at this center, they are bringing people in who have overdosed, and then in the same facility, there are about 50 beds for treatment. So instead of having the vast majority of people who overdose and come into an emergency room go home or go back to the old environment, 80 percent of the people at Maryhaven are going into treatment.
“That's a huge change. That's a sea change. It will have an enormous impact on dealing with the 200,000 people or so in my home state of Ohio who are currently addicted. It will help them get through the program, get through the detox, get into recovery, and have the opportunity to get their lives back together. That program is funded, again, in large part from federal funding that came from this legislation we passed here about a year and a half ago, about a million dollars, maybe $1.2 million, was matched by some private funding, state and local funding. Again, we have this new project that I think can be emulated around the state because it seems to be working really well. The CURES Act, which we passed here has provided to Ohio just recently $26 million in new funding. And we need it badly. And we need to put it to use in ways that work. Again, this is an example of something that's actually worked well and it is going to help close the gaps and make a difference.
“In 2016, we were told that we had the deadliest year on record in terms of overdoses. Unfortunately it looks like 2017, when we have the final numbers, is going to be worse. It certainly will be in Ohio.
“The Franklin County coroner, from the Columbus, Ohio area, recently came out with their numbers for 2017. They had an overdose death rate that was higher than 2016. We lost 520 of our fellow citizens to overdoses in Franklin County in 2017. That was a 47 percent increase from 2016. So not just a little increase, a huge increase. And by the way, a staggering two-thirds of those, 66 percent of those deaths were from this synthetic heroin we talked about, the synthetic opioids, fentanyl and carfentanil. That's why I said earlier that's really the big issue now in so many communities around the country. Just last month Franklin County experienced 18 overdoses in just one week. One county, 18 overdoses in one week. This is just last month. That's an average of over two deaths per day. And think about that when you're thinking about just one county out of 88 and the impact this is having. We need to do more at the federal level to combat this epidemic.
“I'd like to talk about a couple of new pieces of legislation that would build on the success we've had in this body of drafting new legislation that helps to direct money in ways that is going to make a difference toward evidence-based programs, not just throwing money at the problem but being sure the money is well spent. One of the pieces of legislation is critical to this issue of the fentanyl and carfentanil coming into our communities. Unbelievably, this poison that we talked about today, two-thirds of the deaths in this county in Ohio last year were because of this fentanyl. This 16-month-old baby we talked about was killed through carfentanil, another synthetic.
“Unbelievably, this stuff is coming in through our U.S. mail system primarily. So it's coming not over the border primarily or not in some other way, like heroin might or even prescription drugs, but it's literally coming through the mail primarily from China. So you have evil chemists in China mixing up this poisonous brew that becomes fentanyl and then it gets shipped through the mail system into our communities, sometimes to a P.O. Box, sometimes to someone's home, sometimes to a business, and unfortunately, we do not have the ability within the U.S. Postal Service to push back. To me this is an obvious example where this body ought to come together and say, 'you know what? Let’s provide law enforcement the tools they need to be able to stop some of this poison from coming in.' If you were to send this same fentanyl by FedEx or UPS or DHL or another private carrier, they would have to provide law enforcement with advance data on the package, what's in it, where it's going. With that data law enforcement can then target packages, suspect packages, and pull them off the line and pull some of this poison out of our communities. I've been to these distribution centers where the private carriers do exactly that. They have Customs and Border Protection officials there. They have rooms there that have the proper venting to be able to open these packages.
“As you know, this fentanyl, carfentanil is so dangerous. Our first responders are putting their lives at risk every day just by dealing with it. But what they're able to do is to stop this poison from coming in which helps at a minimum to raise the cost because right now one of the reasons it's expanding is because it's deadly. It's something that is causing many more overdoses and deaths than ever before, but it's also relatively inexpensive. So our legislation is very simple. It's called the STOP Act. It's cosponsored by Amy Klobuchar,Democrat from Minnesota, and the notion is to say to our U.S. Postal Service, you should have to provide that same information because law enforcement tells us unless they have that information, it's like finding a needle in a haystack. 900 million packages a year, hard to imagine how they're going to be able to stop those packages without having at least that tool of knowing what's in those packages, where it's coming from, where it's going so they can use their analytic, the big data to be able to identify those packages and to be able to stop them.
“Last month a man from Cleveland, Ohio, was charged after undercover law enforcement agents found he was selling fentanyl that he just bought online from China. According to the prosecutor, and I quote, 'the defendant ordered thousands of deadly doses of fentanyl from China, brought it to a residential neighborhood in Euclid, Ohio, and mailed the dangerous drugs over Ohio and the country using our mail system.' The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations here in the United States Senate, which is a group that I chair, did a year-long investigation of this issue. We completed this several months ago and unfortunately what it showed was exactly what you would suspect, which is the traffickers, when asked how should we ship these drugs that we're buying from you online, because we had an undercover person working for us, he was a member of the Homeland Security Department, someone who deals with these issues every day. He actually contacted websites around the country. Unfortunately, the websites all said the same thing. 'Yeah, we'll sell you this deadly drug, but you've got to ship it through the U.S. mail system. We'll guarantee delivery if you do that.' We were able to find five different websites that were openly selling fentanyl. They all told us where to send it by using some of the information that we had based on the payment systems they were using, we were able to identify the people who had been shipped drugs through these sites. We found, incidentally, that just in a short period of time, seven people had died of overdoses from getting drugs from these particular websites.
“Stopping this influx of fentanyl is going to happen only if we stop how it's coming, which is through our postal service from countries overseas, primarily China. We also need a more comprehensive approach, of course, to the drug issue. It's not enough just to stop the supply if you have a strong demand. Dealing with the demand includes prevention efforts that are included in legislation that we passed in this body about a year and a half ago and still needs to be implemented. We have new legislation to help increase that comprehensive approach. The last bill was called the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, again signed into the law the end of 2016.
“Now we have a new bill called CARA 2.0. It provides more resources for evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. It will help people get into longer-term treatment where they can truly overcome their addiction. It has helped overcome the stigma by treating addiction as a disease just by passing that first bill. Now it's time for us to ensure we're looking at what works and building on it. I've introduced this legislation with my colleagues, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and six others, Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Amy Klobuchar, Dan Sullivan, Maggie Hassan, Bill Cassidy who is sitting in the chair today, and Maria Cantwell, four Republicans and four Democrats. We kept this bipartisan. Other members have joined in as well. It picks up where the CARA legislation left off to provide a better framework as to how we can spend the extra resources that this Congress has wisely determined to put against this fight.
“In the spending bill that was just passed, there was additional $6 billion over two years put against this issue. Let's be sure the money is well spent. Let's be sure we have a road map to build on the successes we've had and ensure that that money is going to things that actually can make a difference. We talked about one earlier, this addiction stabilization center. We also know that one way we can spend our money better is to have a better prescription drug monitoring program nationally. So every state now has some sort of prescription drug monitoring program but often they don't talk to each other. This is something that is required. In my state of Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan—all states where there is also an opioid crisis—Pennsylvania, we need to be sure they're talking together so when someone goes to get a prescription, the information is logged. And if the person goes out of the state to order a prescription across the border, maybe just right across that border, that information is provided just as it would be as if is in that state. That's in the legislation as well.
“We also target addiction as a source. About 80 percent of the people who die of overdoses today probably started on prescription drugs. That's the latest data we have. Some of that was prescription drugs that were provided to that individual as a result of an accident or an injury. They became physically addicted because they were prescribed an opioid for pain relief. The stories are heartbreaking. The parents who come to me and say -- and this has happened twice -- 'my son or my daughter went to get a wisdom tooth extracted and the dentist gave my son or my daughter opioids.' In one case it was 60 pills. Percocet or OxyContin. And sure enough, that young person had a physical addiction develop because of that. And then when the pills were harder to get or more expensive, they turned to something less expensive and more accessible which is heroin or fentanyl or carfentanil and overdosed and died. These are 17-year-old children prescribed this medication.
“This Saturday is drug take-back day in America. I hope everybody who's listening here will think about whether they can go into their own medicine cabinet or maybe their parents' or grandparents' and take out some of these opioids and have those disposed of properly at a police station or someplace else. I know Kroger’s is doing this in Ohio and other states. Find out where your drug take-back location is. Take these drugs in, get rid of them. I've heard too many cases, unbelievably, of people stealing these drugs and using them and then again developing that addiction or selling them and someone else develops the addiction.
“A lot of people in this chamber are concerned about the fact that so many Americans are out of work today and not showing up even on the unemployment rolls because they've left work altogether. They aren't even looking for work. The economists say our labor force participation rate for men is historically low, probably the lowest it's ever been in the history of this country. When you combine men and women you have to go back to the 1970s to see as many people who are out of work altogether. I agree that's a big problem. I would urge my colleagues to look at the impact of opioids on that problem.
“There are two studies, one by the Department of Labor, one by the Brookings Institution, which indicate in the strongest possible terms that opioids are driving much of this dysfunction in our workforce today. So to employers out there who are saying the economy is growing, the tax cuts are working, regulatory relief is working but I can't find workers, 44 percent of those who are out of the workforce, according to a Department of Labor study from the Bureau of Labor statistics, 44 percent took a prescription pain medication the day before. The Brookings study shows that 47 percent of men between 25 and 55, able-bodied men, are taking medication on a daily basis. These are frightening numbers. By the way, I can't imagine that's over reported. I imagine it's underreported because of the stigma attached to this issue of opioid addiction because of the potential legal liability people could be in for admitting it. And even so, almost half of those surveyed say they're not working. They're not even looking for work but they're taking pain medication on a daily basis. So this affects all of us.
“Go to your firehouse in your community and ask them, are they doing more overdose runs or more fire runs? I'll bet you they'll say the former. They're doing more drug overdose runs than they are fire runs. We're all paying for that. Talk to your sheriff or your local police chief and ask them what the number one driver of crime is in your community. I'll bet that they'll say it’s opioids. People shoplifting or committing fraud to be able to pay for the habit, $300 a day or more. People are not working. There's a temptation to commit those crimes, and there's a craving for this drug that puts people in positions they never would have imagined they would find themselves in. Think of the families who are broken up. Think of the kids who have lost their parents to this epidemic.
“In Ohio, we have more kids in foster care under the care of the state than ever in our history. Go to your neonatal units in your hospital and ask them about this. They'll say it's the number-one issue affecting them because so many kids are being born to a mother who is addicted, and these kids have to be taken through withdrawal themselves. Little babies, you can hold them practically in the palm of your hand. I've gone to these neonatal units in Ohio and seen these babies, and it is heartbreaking. Because just like adults, they have to go through this tough withdrawal process. No baby should have to go through that.
“So this issue is one where congress has taken steps in the last year and a half, and I congratulate this body and the House for moving forward with some positive steps. But there is so much more to be done. And these two bills are a start. These two bills will help. They will help to save lives. They will help to get people back on track and help to ensure that people can live out their God-given purpose rather than get distracted through this epidemic, rather than getting off track with regard to family and work and dignity and self-respect. These two bills will help, giving law enforcement in our communities the tools they need and helping our communities to be able to have a comprehensive approach here to turn back this assault of addiction in our country.
“I hope we can move quickly in the Senate to pass this legislation so the president can sign into law and we can begin to make a bigger difference.”