On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights President’s Call to Pass the STOP Act, Urges Senate Action
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor today discussing the opioid epidemic gripping Ohio—and our country—and his legislative efforts to help combat the crisis. The House recently passed Portman’s bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, or STOP Act, which would help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped into the U.S., and he is urging the Senate to pass it as quickly as possible. Portman thanked President Trump for leading efforts in resolving the opioid crisis and for putting his full support behind enacting the STOP Act into law.
Said Portman in his speech: The president is waiting, pen in hand, he’s ready to sign the STOP Act. Let’s not make him wait any longer.”
A full transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Mr. President, first I’d like to agree with and commend my colleague from South Dakota talking about the importance of the tax relief and regulatory reform and what that has meant for our economy. We are growing at rates that some said was impossible. People said, ‘you’ve just got to get used to the new normal. We’re going to have the economy grow at one or two percent.’ 4.1 percent last quarter. It looks like we’re going to continue to see strong growth. That’s because of policies that were enacted here. I think they’re making a difference.
“I’m going to talk about something today that’s making it more difficult to find the workers to be able to get the economy moving forward the way all of us would like to see because as we have lower unemployment and as we have a growing workforce, we’re seeing a number of Americans who are out of the workforce altogether. There’s some new data from the Department of Labor and from the Brookings Institution, some studies that have shown that between the opioid epidemic—which is heroin, prescription drugs, now this new fentanyl and other issues—that there are people who are not showing up even to apply for jobs. They’re not even showing up in the unemployment figures, and they are at historically high levels. 8.5 million men between 25 and 55, so able bodied men between 25 and 55. This recent study is from both Department of Labor and from the Brookings Institute shows that almost half of those men acknowledge taking pain medication on a daily basis. In one of the studies when pushed, two-thirds of those men said they were taking prescription drug medication on a daily basis. Think about that. This is shocking. 8.5 million men out of work between the ages of 25 and 54. About half of them are saying they’re taking pain medication on a daily basis, two-thirds of that group take prescription. That’s not over-reported, in my view, it’s underreported. There are legal issues involved with the opioid epidemic. Also there’s a stigma attached to the addiction. So in order to fully take advantage of this growing economy, and my colleague is absolutely right about that, we’ve got to deal with this opioid epidemic.
“But I’ll tell you something that’s even more tragic is that the Centers for Disease Control just came out with a new report last week talking about what’s happening around the country, and it was another year of tragic results for American families, for communities represented by members all across the country here in the United States Senate. This was the Centers for Disease Control. The new report shows that last year—they just got the final numbers for it—the number of people who overdosed and died from this opioid crisis that we have was greater than the year before. And not just at record levels, but at levels that really creates this epidemic level. 72,000 Americans died of overdoses last year. This is the map that shows where it is. And it’s all over our country. Now, there were a couple of states that made some progress. Those are the states in blue—or purple here. But in all the other states you actually see an increase, overall a nine percent increase in overdose deaths in our country from 2016 to 2017. The problem is not getting better, it’s getting worse.
“In my home state of Ohio, it increased 9.5 percent from 2016 to 2017. Sadly, that puts Ohio third in the country for total drug overdoses and fourth nationally for the number of overdose deaths per capita, per 100,000 residents. 72,000 Americans dying of overdoses, that’s more than the deadliest year for car accidents or gun deaths ever. It’s more than the total number of American casualties in the Vietnam War. Remember, in just one year, just last year. Overdoses are now the top cause of accidental death in the United States and the number-one cause of all deaths for all Americans under the age of 50. The most recent CDC report illustrated something a lot of us knew—this is a national crisis gripping every single state represented in this chamber.
“By the way, this is despite a lot of good work that has been done by this body and by the House, by the administration. Over the last couple of years Congress has taken on this issue and passed legislation that is helping, one of the pieces is called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, CARA, legislation I co-authored with a colleague on the other side, Sheldon Whitehouse. The other one is called the CURES legislation, which is funding going directly to the states. Ohio got another $26 million this year from CURES, and we’re putting it to work. In the appropriations bill that’s before this body right now, The Labor, Health and Human Services bill we provide funding for both the CARA legislation, which allocates funding directly to groups that are doing a good job on prevention, education, treatment, and recovery. It also helps our firefighters and other first responders with the miracle drug, Narcan, they need to reverse the effects of an overdose. That’s all good and it’s working.
“I recently was back home and had a chance to visit, as I do regularly, some of the institutions, some of the entities that are using this funding. For example, I went to a town called Whitehall outside of Columbus, Ohio. At a fire station we had a roundtable discussion where I got to see what is going on there. They are taking this grant money and training the EMS personnel, the firefighters there, paramedics, to be able to handle people coming in who are addicted, to get them into treatment. This firehouse has opened up its doors and said, ‘no questions asked. You come in here, we’ll get you into treatment.’ While I was there coincidentally a young man showed up. He had been through treatment three times. It hadn’t worked for him. He said he was now ready, ready to go. He was shaking. He was nervous. But I watched the firefighters deal with him. I spoke to him. They spoke to him. I saw him get into the ambulance and go to another entity, which is called the Addiction Stabilization Center in downtown Columbus, which is also doing some innovative work, also funded through these programs, in this case funded by the CURES funding. What that is is an old hospital they’ve converted into a 50-bed treatment center with an emergency room right there so people can come in off the street or through EMS personnel and they have a place to go into treatment immediately. It takes away the excuse. They have about an 80 percent rate of people getting into treatment. That’s incredibly high.
“One of the big problems with the current crisis is that people who are addicted, who overdose and are saved by this miracle drug, Narcan, that reverses the effects of the overdose, those people typically go right back into the same environment. How do you get them into the treatment is the key. How do you get them back on track? How do you keep them in treatment? How do you ensure treatment is successful? Those are the things the CARA and CURES treatment legislation are going to do. I will say, despite these positive stories you see back home, despite the additional effort we put in, still you have this data from the Centers for Disease Control showing last year worse than the year before. Why is that?
“Despite efforts here in Congress and at every level of government and in all of our communities, something is being done. People are starting to step forward. The private sector is starting to get more engaged. That’s all good. I think the primary reason for this is because of the rise of a particular drug, the new scourge. It’s synthetic forms of opioids. Just as we were making progress in reducing some of these overdoses and deaths and dealing with the terrible consequences of the opioid epidemic, what happened? We saw a steep increase in a new drug coming into the market. It’s more deadly, 50 times more deadly than heroin. It’s relatively inexpensive. And that’s a fatal combination for thousands of our constituents who are dying every year from the fastest growing and deadliest drug in this epidemic, fentanyl.
“This chart shows a breakdown of drugs based on the type of drug and its increase or decrease. The one trend that stands out as you’ll see here is the growth in synthetic opioids. With regard to other drugs, including heroin, you see a slight decrease, a flattening. With regard to synthetic opioids, a steep increase. And a steep increase recently. Last year there were nearly 30,000 overdose deaths from synthetic drugs like fentanyl. That’s up from approximately 20,000 overdose deaths from fentanyl the year earlier. So 10,000 more deaths from fentanyl just between 2016 and 2017. To give you an idea of how rapidly this drug is infiltrating our country, in 2013, five years ago, there were about 3,000 fentanyl overdose deaths nationally. This means from 2013 to 2017 there has been a nearly 850 percent increase in overdose deaths due to fentanyl. Last year fentanyl was involved in more than 60 percent of the overdose deaths CDC said were from opioids. In my state of Ohio that’s consistent. We think it’s over 60 percent, closer to two-thirds. Looking at the new data coming in from Ohio this year from the various health departments around the state and from our coroners, it looks like a higher percentage in 2018.
“When I’m home I hear about this a lot. People come up to me and tell me stories that will break your heart. I’ve had two tele-town hall meetings in the last month and both of these involve Ohioans. People aren’t selected for anything other than they get a phone call and we say ‘do you want to speak to your senator?’ and they pick up the phone,= and we have about 15,000 to 20,000 people on the call. In both of these last two tele-town hall meetings, somebody called in a with a very similar story, a tragic story about the pain and suffering they experienced from a loved one passing away from a fentanyl overdose. Pauline from Zanesville called in. She told me her brother had recently passed away. She wondered what we were doing about it. Sam from Shelby County called at the next town hall and told me his son had tragically overdosed from fentanyl and died. By the way, in both of those cases, they didn’t mention that up front. They called and had a discussion with me about some of the policy issues and it just kind of came out. Their voices cracked. You could tell when they are overcome with emotion at the end of our conversation and said, ‘well my son,’ in this one guy’s case, ‘just died from an overdose of fentanyl.’ By the way, in both cases the brother and the son did not know that they had taken fentanyl. They didn’t know that they had used fentanyl. In one case with regard to the brother, he thought it was cocaine that he was using only. Instead it was laced with fentanyl. In the other case it was heroin, and the person had shot up heroin before and been successful in not dying of an overdose at least, but in this case fentanyl was laced in the heroin.
“Now I tell you this because this new deadly drug is not just about pure fentanyl. It’s about evil dealers, drug traffickers actually mixing the fentanyl and other drugs as well. And when the coroner reports come in, often they are finding out it’s fentanyl, not the drug the person thought he or she was taking. I’ve had first responders tell me somebody wakes up and says ‘thank you for saving my life on this Narcan. I’m okay now.’ Hopefully they say I want to go into treatment. But they wake up after being treated by Narcan and they say, ‘I don’t know why I overdosed because I wasn’t taking a strong drug.’ They say, ‘well no, this is testing for fentanyl. I wasn’t taking fentanyl.’ That’s because now any street drug that’s taken, any street drug has the risk of including fentanyl, which can be deadly. I hope people who are listening today tell that to everyone they can think of, at work, in their family, people in the community, just to be sure that this message is getting out.
“This is a new and deadly threat out on our streets, and it can be in any drug. If we want to turn the tide on this drug epidemic that’s depriving the people I represent and the people represented by this chamber of their God-given purpose in life, whatever it is, it’s certainly not to overdose and die from an opioid, then we’ve got to much more aggressively confront this rise of fentanyl. This is the reality. None of us wish it were so, but it is. Shockingly, when you do research on this, you find out that these synthetic drugs actually come to our country from other countries directly through the U.S. mail system. That’s what the law enforcement folks have told us. Shocking. That’s where the majority of it is coming.
“We looked into this issue in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations here in the United States Senate. I chair that subcommittee. We spent 18 months studying this. We found out, frankly, how easy it was to purchase fentanyl online and to have this shipped to the United States of America. We learned through this 18-month undercover investigation that these drugs can be found through a simple Google search and that overseas sellers essentially guaranteed delivery if the fentanyl was sent through a federal agency, the United States Postal Service. We found out from talking to law enforcement and our own research that this drug is primarily coming from China, one country where you have scientists and you have chemical companies that are putting together this deadly mixture and then sending it to our shores.
“Why do the traffickers prefer the Postal Service? Because it has lower screening standards than the other private carriers. International packages entering into the United States are subject to screening. Every private entity like FedEx, or UPS, or DHL, others, have to provide law enforcement with advance electronic data as to where the package is from, what’s in the package, where it’s going. With that data, they can use big data from around the country and around the world, including from intelligence sources, and they can help to identify suspicious packages. Otherwise it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack unless you have that information and have it in advance and have it electronically. It allows Customs and Border Protection, which are doing the best job they can, to identify those suspicious packages, stop them in transit, keep these synthetic drugs out of our communities, stop the poison.
“I’ve seen it in action. I visited the Customs and Border Protection port of entry at the Greater Cincinnati airport and seen how they can get packages offline. By the way, they have to take these packages into a sealed room that has adequate ventilation and they have to wear protective gear to be able to even open these packages, this stuff is so deadly. I’ve been to Columbus, Ohio, and I’ve seen there in one of these, again, distribution centers for one of the private carriers, our Customs and Border Protection putting their life on the line for us to find these deadly packages, take them offline to avoid this poison coming into our communities. Law enforcement, as you can imagine, is desperate to stop these deadly drugs from reaching our shores in the first place. That’s the best way to stop it. They need this critical information in advance to be able to do that.
“Why doesn’t the Post Office do it? Well, because we haven’t required them to. By law, after 9/11, we required all the private carriers to provide this information. Frankly it was more focused on explosives at that time than it was on contraband like drugs. We didn’t require it of the Postal Service.That was 16 years ago. For the last several years some of us have been pushing the Post Office hard on this, and unfortunately, some still continue to oppose this effort to provide 100 percent electronic data. Because of congressional pressure, they have recently been getting more data on some of these packages. Based on testimony before our subcommittee, last year the Post Office received electronic data in advance on about 36 percent of the packages that came in, meaning that the United States received more than 318 million international packages with no or little screening. Even when the Post Office, by the way, conducted these pilot programs to screen for the drugs to get to the 36 percent number, 80 percent of the time, we learned in our investigation, they presented the packages to Customs and Border Protection. 20 percent of the time they did not. So only 36 percent of the time was any screening provided and still in 20 percent of those cases they didn’t present the package to Customs and Border Protection. Instead it went into circulation, into our communities.
“So we have a very simple solution. 100 percent screening. This is a deadly epidemic. Can you imagine tens of thousands of people dying from something that comes in from overseas through our own Postal Service and we’re not stepping up to say, ‘let’s do everything we can to screen these packages with the best monitoring devices, the best information.’ That’s all we’re asking for. The legislation we have is called the STOP Act, a bipartisan bill I sponsored with my colleague Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. It closes this loophole in our Postal Services that drug traffickers are using, exploiting, to ship these deadly drugs into our communities. By holding the Postal Service to the same standard and requiring them to provide that advance data for all packages enter the United States of America, we can keep the fentanyl out of our communities.
“By the way, talk to your letter carrier about this issue. They will tell you they want to stop this. They don’t want to be carrying this poison. The person who walks door-to-door in your community or delivers mail to your Post Office, they do not want to have fentanyl in their package. Of course it’s dangerous for them, but more important to them, they know what it’s doing to our communities. They don’t want to be any part of it.
“The STOP Act passed the House of Representatives earlier this summer, and more than one-third of the senators in this chamber are now cosponsors of this legislation. In my view, it is long past time for the United States Senate to pass this legislation so that it can become law and begin to make a real difference in our communities. I’d like to thank President Trump for his leadership on this issue. Some of you may have seen that yesterday he sent out and statement in a tweet supporting moving ahead with the STOP Act because of the scourge of this fentanyl coming into our neighborhoods, coming into our communities, our homes. He recognized the importance of this issue, by the way, and talked about it during the 2016 campaign and has talked about it a lot since then. He appointed an opioid commission to look into this issue, and that commission endorsed the STOP Act specifically. And I want to thank Governor Christie for working with us on that. That was the final report in November of last year and still we have not passed it.
“On Monday, when President Trump called on the Senate to pass this legislation without delay, I noticed there was more interest and reporters talking about this issue in the halls. I’m glad about that. The president is waiting, pen in hand, he’s ready to sign the STOP Act. Let’s not make him wait any longer. Last year an average of 81 Americans died every single day from synthetic opioids, 81 Americans died every single day. This year, from what I can tell back home, it’s no better, and may, in fact, be worse. We can’t wait around for this problem to get worse. We can’t do nothing. We’ve got to do something. The legislation we passed here to help with prevention, treatment, and recovery is good. It’s beginning to work, but we also need to reduce the supply and at least increase the cost of this deadly drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. We need to pass the STOP Act. We need to pass it now so we can make a meaningful difference in combating fentanyl, the new scourge of this opioid epidemic.”