On Senate Floor, Portman Discusses Upcoming Senate Vote on STOP Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) again delivered remarks on the Senate floor urging the Senate to pass its pending opioid package that includes his bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act to help combat the growing influx of dangerous synthetic opioids in our communities. The Senate is expected to vote on comprehensive opioid legislation soon 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: “The STOP Act alone is not going to solve this crisis. But it’ll act as a tourniquet to stop the flow of fentanyl into our country and allow the comprehensive programs, like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, CARA, like the CURES legislation prioritize to function to their full potential—to allow Americans to live up to their full potential and to allow our communities to heal.”
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here:
“In the next several days, the Senate is expected to take up comprehensive legislation that comes from four or five different committees in Congress to fight the addiction crisis—to help our communities combat some of the deadliest aspects of this crisis nationally.
“And this help is urgently needed. Let’s start by talking about how Congress got here.
“First, just a couple of years ago we passed two bills that were historic and are making a difference. One is called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, and the other is called the 21st Century CURES Act. CARA, which I co-authored with my colleague Sheldon Whitehouse, who is on the Senate floor with us and just spoke a moment ago, provides resources directly to evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. Now, these are nonprofit programs for the most part that are able to apply to the federal government directly for grant money. They are doing things that are innovative and new to try to get after this problem. And in many respects, they are working and making a difference.
“This year alone, there will be $608 million spent on these programs that offer these innovative solutions to this stubborn problem that is affecting everyone in this chamber.
“The CURES legislation this year will be $500 million annually. That goes directly to states. The states then give grants out to various programs in those states. In my home state of Ohio, for instance, $26 million has come each of the past two years. Sadly, Ohio is one of the hardest hit states in the country, so we have a larger grant allocation than some states that have not had as many overdoses and deaths and high rates of addiction, as we’ve had.
“I was a very strong supporter of the 21st Century CURES funding, and I applaud Senators Alexander and Murray, as well as Senator Blunt and other Appropriations Committee members on both sides of the aisle for their work on that. And of course, in regard to the CARA legislation, it’s actually working out there. I have now had the opportunity to see how it’s working.
“I have been to about a dozen CARA grant recipients in Ohio over the past year alone. I’ve seen new and powerful ways that the communities back in Ohio are helping to turn the tide of addiction.
“Last month, as an example, I visited the Whitehall Fire Station outside of Columbus, Ohio. They’re doing something innovative in a fire station—opening their doors and partnering with another organization. They get CARA funding, the other organization gets CURES funding to provide immediate help for those who are coming in and are seeking it—or have overdosed, Narcan has been applied, they reversed the effects of these overdoses, and yet that gap that so often occurs in our communities doesn’t occur there because it’s seamless—people go right into treatment.
“The program, again, was made possible by this CARA grant. It opens up the doors of the fire station, and it’s working. I was there at a time when, coincidentally, an addict came in. His name was Blake. Blake was, as he described himself, a heroin addict. He had heroin on his person. I had the opportunity to speak with Blake and offer him some words of encouragement—had an opportunity to ask him why he was here, what had happened in the past.
“He said he had been to three treatment programs. They hadn’t worked. He had gone straight from a short-term treatment program right back to the streets. The gap had occurred. He also said that he was ready and he appreciated the opportunity to go straight into a treatment program, which he had not had before. I had a chance to speak with him. I told him to stay in touch with me, let me know what’s going on. Last week he called. Blake said he’s now in a three-month treatment program in Portsmouth, Ohio. He’s optimistic. He is confident. He believes that because of this approach, he has an opportunity now to get clean, to get back with his family, and get back to work.
“This is what’s often needed is the seamless transition from immediate medical attention, the application of Narcan to reverse the effects, to treatment, to longer-term recovery in order for people to overcome their addiction. That’s what CARA and CURES prioritizes, and that’s why these programs are so important. And, once again, we will see in the funding this year that those programs have been held up, the good parts of the programs in particular are being used as an example for the entire country.
“Despite the legislative progress we have made and despite what I see back home with communities beginning to make a difference, overall the situation is not getting better, it’s getting worse. Why is that you might ask? I believe it’s for one simple reason and that is the advent of new drugs and particularly less expensive and more powerful synthetic opioids that have come into our communities just in the last few years.
“The new data from the Centers for Disease Control, CDC, shows that overdose deaths increased nine percent from 2016 to 2017, the last year for which we have data. My home state of Ohio had a nine and a half percent increase in overdose deaths. In total, the CDC estimates that 72,000 Americans died last year from overdoses, 72,000 Americans, being the number one cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Over 48,000 of those overdose deaths were caused by opioids, and about 30,000 of those were caused by synthetic forms, particularly fentanyl. That’s more than 60 percent.
“So this is the big issue right now, two-thirds of the overdose deaths in my home state of Ohio are being caused by synthetic opioids, fentanyl. Columbus, Ohio, just unfortunately had a number of deaths over a short period of time all due to fentanyl. There were about 20,000 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2016, meaning there’s been a 50 percent increase in just one year. When you go from 2013 to 2017, there has been an 850 percent increase just during five years—850 percent increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in our country.
“The opioid crisis has continued to tighten its grip around communities across our country, and the emergence of fentanyl has presented a new challenge in turning the tide of this epidemic. Just as we were making progress this more deadly, less expensive scourge has come in to our families, our communities, and our states. That’s why we need to take action and take action this week. I would like to thank the Majority Leader Senator McConnell and the Democratic Leader Senator Schumer for agreeing to bring this legislation to the floor. I’d also like to thank Chairman Lamar Alexander for his good work in bringing together all the different proposals from the four, five committees I talked about and negotiating with all sides to come up with consensus legislation.
“This should be nonpartisan, not just bipartisan. This is something that is attacking our communities at their core. I would like to thank and commend the several committees that held public hearings and contributed legislative ideas to this mix. That includes the Judiciary Committee, the HELP Committee, the Finance Committee, and others. This bipartisan consensus package puts politics aside and does what’s right for our communities. It includes some additional legislative priorities I’ve been working on over the past couple of years that I believe are going to make a real difference in this fight.
“Earlier this year, again with Senator Whitehouse and others, we introduced CARA 2.0, the next version of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. A number of those provisions are included in this package. One is a national quality standard and best practices for recovery housing. It’s critical for people as they transition out of treatment and into longer-term recovery to have this housing, but it also needs to meet these higher standards because of many examples where it has not and failed those individuals and families. The legislation also authorizes support for high school and college students to help children and young adults recover from substance abuse disorders. We’ve had amazing models in Ohio for this, like the Collegiate Recovery Center at Ohio State. Columbus is now opening its first recovery high school next year. Finally, CARA 2.0’s contribution to the opioid legislation includes $60 million for a plan of safe care for babies born dependent on drugs. Their mothers are addicted, and they are born with this neonatal abstinence syndrome. It’s a very sad situation, but a reality in my state and so many others. To further help these newborn babies, this legislation includes what’s called the CRIB Act, which is bipartisan legislation I co-authored that helps newborns suffering from addiction get the best care possible in the best setting possible to get the love and support they need to be able to recover. In also helps ensure these babies born with this neonatal absence syndrome get the help needed in their early stages of development so they can live up to their God-given purpose in life, which is not to live with this.
“The legislation before us also reauthorizes a number of important programs that have a proven record of success like drug courts, like the Drug-Free Communities prevention grants, like the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, where law enforcement can coordinate at every level. These are all positive strides that will help improve what is working in combating this epidemic and provide more resources to help some of the most vulnerable groups affected.
“But, colleagues, I think the most important and immediate difference in turning the tide on this opioid epidemic will come from a bill that is called the STOP Act. It’s a bipartisan bill I co-authored with Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. It will combat the scourge of fentanyl we talked about earlier. This issue of an 850 percent increase in this one kind of drug coming in and causing more and more overdose, synthetic opioids, has to be addressed. 81 Americans are dying every single day. That’s the best data we have from last year. This year unfortunately it’s likely to be even higher.
“It’s the new poison flooding our communities. The STOP Act will close a loophole drug traffickers have been using to ship fentanyl into our country. Unbelievably, fentanyl is actually manufactured primarily in China, and it primarily comes into our communities through the United States mail system. So you might think this comes over land from Mexico or somewhere else. No, this is coming in through our mail system primarily from China.
“We conducted an 18-month investigation into this in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair. We revealed just how easy it is to purchase fentanyl online and have it shipped to the United States. Based on our undercover investigation, these drugs could be found through a simple Google search and overseas sellers we accessed essentially guaranteed delivery if the fentanyl was sent through the U.S. mail system. To be clear, they guaranteed delivery if it’s sent through the U.S. mail system, not if it’s sent through other carriers like a private carrier, FedEx, UPS, DHL, and others.
“It’s easy why they prefer the Postal Service for shipping these deadly synthetic drugs. The Postal Service has a weaker screening standard than do the private carriers. After 9/11, Congress passed a law requiring private carriers like UPS, FedEx, DHL to get what is called electronic advance data on international packages entering the United States. This information, this advanced electronic data, allows law enforcement to have a chance to stop this poison because they can find out where the package is from, what’s in it, where it’s going. And they can then use good data, use algorithms that they’ve come up with to be able to determine which packages are suspect and pull them off the line. I’ve seen this. I’ve seen Customs and Border Protection do this at distribution centers for these private carriers. I’ve also seen, unfortunately, that the Postal Service is not doing what they should be doing. Without this information, identifying packages is next to impossible. It’s like identifying a needle in a haystack.
“Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and it’s relatively inexpensive. It’s so deadly that as little as two milligrams, equal to a few specks of salt is enough to be fatal. Drug users and dealers have moved to fentanyl as a less expensive alternative. I’m told that one gram of the deadly mixture of heroin and fentanyl can cost about half as much on the street as one gram of heroin alone. Drug users seeking a less expensive and stronger high are seeking it out, and drug dealers are mixing it into a number of other street drugs. No street drug is safe because fentanyl is being mixed. It’s being laced into all kinds of other drugs, often unknowingly to the person buying the drugs.
“To give you an idea of how deadly this drug is, recently police in Columbus seized 2.2 pounds of fentanyl. That’s equal to about three and a half cups, a small enough amount to fit in a plastic bag in your kitchen. That 2.2 pound of fentanyl is enough to kill 500,000 people, roughly the population of the city of Cleveland.
“Because of its extreme potency, deadly doses can be shipped in small packages that are almost impossible to identify without having the necessary information and screening devices. The Postal Service isn’t required to do it yet, as a result they have chosen not to. Only recently, after congressional pressure, have they begun getting this data on some packages entering the United States. They say they now have some information on 36 percent of international packages. That’s a step in the right direction. By the way, that still means that over 318 million international packages are coming here with no screening at all.
“Even when they have identified packages that are likely to contain drugs, only about 80 percent of the time are they giving them to law enforcement. So 20 percent of the time the packages are still going into our communities. So this needs to be changed. It is a glaring loophole. Everybody knows it. It undermines the safety and security of our country in fundamental ways. It’s past time we fixed it, and this legislation will do it.
“The STOP Act will significantly disrupt the flow of fentanyl by holding the Postal Service, a federal agency, to the same standard as these private carriers. It will require the Postal Service to collect advance electronic data immediately on 70 percent of the packages entering the United States by the end of this year—100 percent for China. It will require the collection of 100 percent by the end of 2020.
“It is a common-sense solution to address the most urgent and deadliest aspect of the opioid epidemic we face. At the very least, it’ll increase the risk of sending these drugs into our country and raise the price—the street price—for fentanyl. That’s why it has such broad, bipartisan support. There is a growing momentum behind this legislation, and I look forward to the Senate passing it in the next several days as part of this broader legislation we talked about earlier.
“The STOP Act alone is not going to solve this crisis. But it’ll act as a tourniquet to stop the flow of fentanyl into our country and allow the comprehensive programs, like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, CARA, like the CURES legislation prioritize to function to their full potential—to allow Americans to live up to their full potential and to allow our communities to heal.
“I look forward to President Trump signing this legislation into law, both the broader opioid legislation and the STOP Act, so it can begin making a difference in communities in my home state of Ohio and all around the country.”