On Senate Floor, Portman Urges the Senate to Pass Legislation to Permanently Criminalize Fentanyl-Related Substances

The Current Scheduling Order Expires on February 6, 2020

January 14, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) urged his Senate colleagues to pass legislation that will permanently criminalize fentanyl-related substances before the current scheduling order expires on February 6, 2020. Last year, Senator Portman (R-OH) introduced the bipartisan Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting (FIGHT) Fentanyl Act, which will permanently schedule illicitly manufactured and deadly fentanyl. In February 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a temporary scheduling order to schedule fentanyl-related substances that has allowed federal law enforcement authorities to bring criminal actions against individuals who manufacture, distribute, or handle fentanyl-related substances. This scheduling order is set to expire on February 6, 2020. The FIGHT Fentanyl Act codifies DEA precedent to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances. The legislation has been endorsed by all of the state and territorial Attorneys General, including Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

In addition, Portman highlighted the legislative victories he worked to help secure for Ohio last year. These legislative accomplishments support economic growth, job creation, and greater retirement security, support Ohio’s military installations, bolster efforts to protect our environment, including our Great Lakes, combat the addiction epidemic, make health care more affordable and accessible, and increase cybersecurity.

A transcript of his remarks can be found below, and a video can be found here.

“I’m here today to talk about the path forward on legislation, common-sense solutions that my constituents and all of our constituents would like to see this year. The Senators in this chamber came back to town this week along with members of the House at one of the most partisan times in our nation’s history. We just learned that the House is now going to send us articles of impeachment. This will be the third presidential impeachment trial in our entire history, only the second one in the last 151 years. And it will be the most partisan one ever. I agree with Nancy Pelosi of a year ago who said, and I quote, ‘Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there is something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country.’ I think she was right about that and yet, unfortunately, without meeting those criteria, here we are going down that path. 

“But while we face a lot of contentious issues ahead of us, I still believe we can legislate for the benefit of the people we represent, and we must. That’s our job. We can’t let partisanship cause us to lose sight of all the opportunities we have here every day to come together, find common ground, pass common-sense solutions to address the issues our constituents care most about. 

“In fact, I would say that under the radar and without fanfare, we have recently done that. At the end of last year we enacted a number of bills and provisions on a bipartisan basis that help people. I talked about the SECURE Act a moment ago. Despite the headlines about gridlock and dysfunction and impeachment, we’ve been working on both sides of the aisle to find solutions to some of these real problems. Growing our economy, protecting our national security, promoting conservation, helping the most vulnerable. One area where this Senate and the Congress in general along with the administration has made significant progress is combating the ongoing drug addiction crisis in America. 

“It’s affected so many families represented by all of us in this chamber. In my home state of Ohio, we’ve been on the front lines of this crisis for years. Opioids in particular have taken a heavy toll in our communities. In fact, in 2017 our opioid overdose rate in Ohio was almost three times the national average, with nearly a dozen Ohioans dying from these dangerous drugs every single day, making it the number one cause of death in Ohio, surpassing car accidents. Since 2017 we’ve begun to make progress finally, to be able to turn the tide on opioids.  In 2018 after a after a decade of increased overdose deaths every year for the previous dozen years, in 2018 we finally had a reduction. A 22 percent reduction in overdose deaths. By the way, that led the nation in terms of the percent decrease. Still way too high, unacceptably high, but we’re starting to make progress, and a lot of it goes back to what is being done here at the federal level but also the state level and the local level to address this problem.

“We have dramatically increased funding here for treatment for recovery, for providing Narcan as a way to save people’s lives, the miracle drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. So we have done some things that are very important. These resources that we have sent through legislation, most recently by legislation the president signed into law just last year, also by that provided by the State Opioid Response grants and also by our bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, CARA, are helping. They’re helping our first responders to be able to use innovative new approaches to ensure individuals whose overdoses are reversed go into treatment rather than just overdosing again and again and again. 

“The good news is that at the year end, the spending bill that Congress passed secured a record $658 million in funding for these Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery grant – CARA grant – dollars. I’m the author of that legislation initially along with Sheldon Whitehouse on the other side of the aisle. We started off with closer to $200 million. Now we’re at $658 million. Why? Because it’s working. And I’ve been back home going from place to place seeing how it works, watching some of these first responders in action with social workers and treatment providers who are going into people’s homes, getting people into treatment who previously were not. But we can’t rest on our laurels because we’ve got to do a lot more to address all forms of addiction that are increasingly becoming a problem. 

“We’ve seen in Ohio and around the country that psycho-stimulants have now come back with a vengeance. This would be crystal meth from Mexico, cocaine. It’s surging in communities across our state. According to our Deputy Attorney General in Ohio, law enforcement officials in 2018 tested double the amount of methamphetamine samples as they had in 2017. Triple the amount from 2016. In other words, crystal meth is growing, higher and higher amounts of it are coming in and more and more people are being affected by it. I’ve heard this at roundtable discussions around the state. I was in Knox County last year learning that the prosecutor’s office estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of all drug incidents included crystal meth. Opioids used to be their biggest problem in Knox County, as it has been in all 88 counties in Ohio until recently. Now it’s pure crystal meth coming in from Mexico. 

“So, I’m pleased that the spending bill at the end of last year that we passed just last month changed the way in which our funding is delivered in the fight against addiction. Specifically it included my Combating Meth and Cocaine Act. This is an important bill that allows states the flexibility to use the roughly $1.5 billion in grant funds allocated specifically to combat opioids, 21st Century CURES grants, now called the State Opioid Response grants, that they can also be used for the treatment and recovery services for new threats like crystal meth and cocaine. 

“So giving our local communities that flexibility is incredibly important. I’ve heard it constantly when I’m back home. We’ve now done that to be to help even further to try to reverse the effects not just of the opioid crisis but of the drug crisis and all forms of addiction. So we’ve made significant strides in ensuring we can respond to this ever-changing addiction crisis and I’m proud we’re able to do it. 

“As I said at the beginning of this speech, this is a pretty divisive time in Washington to say the least. No one can deny that. But what I’ve hoped to show by highlighting these achievements over the past year, that even in a highly partisan environment, it’s still possible to bring people together to get things done and to pass laws that make a fundamental improvement to the lives of the people we represent. While finding that common ground sometimes takes a lot more work, it’s worth it. The extra effort goes a long way. Fortunately we’re coming into this new session of Congress having already laid the groundwork that we need to do to continue to fight this addiction crisis. 

“Critical right now to that fight is passing bipartisan legislation that will help us push back against a particular kind of opioid, the synthetic opioid called fentanyl. Fentanyl came on the scene five or six years ago again with a vengeance just as we were making progress on reducing the use of heroin and prescription drugs. Suddenly this fentanyl arrives. It’s a synthetic opioid. It is 50 times more powerful on average than heroin. It is now the number one killer, has been for the last few years. In states like mine, in Ohio, when we look at the numbers the past few years, although we’re making progress on other opioids, we’re not really making progress on fentanyl. Why? Because it’s being mixed in to all kinds of other drugs, including crystal meth, including opioids, including all street drugs. 

“So the improvements we’ve seen are significant. But fentanyl continues to be the number one killer. Fentanyl, unfortunately, knows no zip code and is devastating individuals and families all across the country. According to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 72,000 drug-related deaths in the U.S. in 2017, 40 percent of those deaths were involving fentanyl. That data showed that the overdose deaths due to fentanyl had increased at a rate of 88 percent per year on average since 2013. 

“It’s a real threat to our states. In 2017 alone we had a record 3,500 overdose deaths in Ohio attributed to fentanyl. Last fall our Narcotics and Gun Enforcement task force seized 45 pounds of fentanyl in a single bust in Montgomery County – Dayton, Ohio, enough of the drug to kill the entire population of Ohio. That’s why the Drug Enforcement Agency has made the right call in 2018 in making fentanyl-related substances illegal to possess, transport, or manufacture. This means they’ve been scheduled. 

“Thanks to that designation, our law enforcement officials have been able to better protect our communities by seizing and destroying large amounts of these fentanyl-related substances. These are the analogues of fentanyl. So that’s good. Unfortunately, due to the federal law, the DEA was only able to make these dangerous substances illegal on a temporary basis. So think about that. You have this deadly drug, 50 times more powerful than heroin. We were able back in 2018 to finally make not just fentanyl but all of its analogues, the fentanyl-related substances, illegal. Law enforcement was using that to begin to push back, and now we find that it was only temporary. And guess what? We’re fast-approaching the end of that designation. Next month, on February 6, which is three weeks from this Thursday, fentanyl-related substances will once again be legal. And it will be much harder to keep vulnerable communities safe from these deadly substances. We cannot let that happen. 

“I met earlier today with former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Ambassador Branstad is now our ambassador to China. For many years, many of us have been pushing China to do more to crack down on fentanyl, because most of the fentanyl that comes to this country and kills our individuals in our communities comes from China. Most of it has been coming through our mail system. We’ve done a lot to stop that. We’ve passed the STOP Act, which tightens up the Post Office screening process, which has worked very well over the last year. We’ve also provided more money under the INTERDICT Act to provide better equipment to not just our postal service but also the private carriers, like UPS, or FedEx, DHL. 

“But, what’s happened is China has also done a better job to try to schedule fentanyl, make it illegal, and schedule the precursors and analogues to fentanyl. And we’ve pushed them hard on that. Very hard. I’ve been in China myself personally doing that. I know Ambassador Branstad has pushed them hard on this. Finally they’ve begun to start addressing this rampant production in their country. 

“But Terry Branstad told me today -- and I agree with him -- is that the credibility of the United States to continue to provide pressure to China to do the right thing will be eroded dramatically if we don’t continue to schedule fentanyl. Because we’re asking them to do it, we cannot let this designation lapse here. Obviously what’s most important is we not let it lapse because it is the wrong thing to do and because it will affect all of our communities, all of our families who are affected by this dangerous drug. Can’t let it happen. That’s why last fall Senator Joe Manchin and I introduced a bill called FIGHT Fentanyl which codifies the Drug Enforcement Agency precedent to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances. So forget these temporary designations that cause these issues, let’s permanently schedule these fentanyl-related substances. It has very strong bipartisan support. In fact, as of a couple weeks ago, every single U.S. state and territory attorney general has now endorsed our bill. That’s all 50 states and six territories. That doesn’t happen very often. This is a bipartisan group of law enforcement officials who have said, ‘We support this legislation, the FIGHT Fentanyl Act that we introduced last fall.’ 

“I am confident we can get it passed of it comes to the floor for a vote. There are other approaches to it as well that are slightly different than ours. I support those as well. The point is, we need to pass legislation to ensure that February 6 doesn’t come and go without us scheduling these fentanyl analogues. It is a good example of the need to continue working across the aisle on this issue. We’ve done a good job at it so far as I said, even in these contentious times, but we need to do it again, and we need to do it soon. I’m told that because during impeachment it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to legislate on any other topic without unanimous consent, we need to get this done before next week. Before we get the impeachment articles and before this United States Senate begins the impeachment trial. 

“So I’m urging today that all of our colleagues focus on this issue, join us in this common-sense, lifesaving legislation. Let’s work together, the Judiciary Committee has been working on this, others have worked on this. We have legislation at the desk to be able to solve it. I hope we could do it by unanimous consent. But we have to do it. This is lifesaving legislation to keep fentanyl from spreading its poison even further.”