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 bipartisan bill that will give law enforcement the tools they need to help identify and stop synthetic opioids from being shipped into the U.S. The Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act is Portman-authored 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 the Postal Service to drug traffickers here in the United States.

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

 

“This is an issue that relates to so many things. It relates to our workplace because people who are addicted to opioids are not coming in to the workforce. One reason we have such high levels of unemployment is people outside the workforce altogether. They’re not showing up on the unemployment numbers because they aren’t even looking for work. The labor force participation rate, as economists call it, is so low right now largely, in my view, because of this opioid issue. Our courts are jammed. Our jails are jammed. Our hospital emergency rooms are jammed. We have to do more to get at this issue for so many reasons.

 “The driving force there in my home state of Ohio and around the country now is this synthetic form of heroin or opioids. It’s called fentanyl, 50 times more powerful than heroin. There’s other drugs, one called carfentanil, as an example, even more powerful. These synthetic forms of opioids are causing most of the deaths now around the country. The Centers for Disease Control, CDC, recently issued a report which showed this increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl. The report analyzed overdose deaths in 10 states hit hardest by the epidemic, including Ohio. It found that fentanyl overdose deaths nearly doubled from last six months of 2016 to the first six months of 2017. 2017 is the last year for which they have good records. It’s unbelievable. 

“This synthetic form of heroin is the new scourge of the opioid epidemic. It’s being spread into every other drug, too. When I do roundtables back home as I do regularly, I hear about it being spread into crystal meth, into cocaine, being spread to heroin, of course. Twice in roundtable discussions I’ve had with community leaders—I’ve heard one from a police chief, one from a sheriff—both similar stories about a young man who wakes up from an overdose after being saved through Narcan, this miracle drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, and when the young man comes to he says, ‘I was just smoking pot. How did I overdose?’ And in both cases, based on the forensics, the information they were able to get from the labs, they found out that, of course, it wasn’t just marijuana. It was marijuana laced with fentanyl. So no street drug is safe. They can all kill you. As I’ve met with these first responders, community leaders, and those in recovery across Ohio, as I just did recently with a group called PreventionFIRST!, I’ve heard what is often brought up by those on the frontlines. That is that we would be making so much more progress right now on this war against opioids that we’ve been successful here in this Congress in passing more money for prevention and treatment and recovery, those funds are starting to be used back home and I see it. I see the results and there’s some really exciting stuff going on—but for the fentanyl. In other words, just as we were finally making progress on prescription drugs and then on heroin, now this fentanyl is coming in and is creating more problems. It is so inexpensive and it is so pervasive. 

“Recently in Ohio, there were two busts that they were able to apprehend people selling fentanyl and find this cache of fentanyl that they had. In both cases it was a massive amount. Combined, just these two busts alone, there was enough fentanyl to kill half the people who live in my state of Ohio. That’s how bad it is. Just this last week there was an autopsy that revealed that a death of an Ohio police chief from Kirkersville, in the Columbus area, was caused by fentanyl. The report said, ‘acute intoxication by fentanyl.’ It was an accidental overdose. I’ve told before the story about the police officer who brushed a couple flakes off of his shirt after a bust. He didn’t know it was fentanyl. Those flakes were the drug. It got into his skin through his fingers. He dropped to the ground unconscious, had an overdose, and it took several doses of Narcan to save his life. Our first responders are also in much more danger now than they have ever been even with heroin and prescription drugs and other opioids. 

“Addiction has taken too many lives in Ohio and, again, fentanyl is the deadliest drug in this epidemic. There was a recent estimation by a group called the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health which suggested that opioids are responsible for more than 500,000 years of life expectancy lost in Ohio between 2010 and 2016. Think about that—500,000 years of lost life due to opioids in Ohio just in the seven years between 2010 and the end of 2016. These are often lives of young people who had great promise ahead of them and they’ve become involved in this opioid epidemic and the addiction takes over and it’s more important than anything—it’s more important than their family, their friends, their job, their faith, more important than taking care of themselves. And they end up, sadly, losing their lives and all that opportunity and all the purpose that God had for them and their lives. 

“So we need to turn the tide on this opioid epidemic. We can’t do it, in my view, unless we get at this issue of fentanyl because that’s the big new scourge. We need to look at how it’s coming, why it’s coming, why it is so cheap. Here is what’s very interesting and might be surprising. It is not coming across the border from Mexico or, if it is, it’s very little of it. That’s where the heroin is coming from, about 90 percent of it probably, more pure than ever, more dangerous than ever. But this deadly fentanyl is mostly coming through the mail system. It’s being mailed into the United States of America, mostly from overseas, mostly from China. So there are some evil scientists somewhere in China making this fentanyl and then shipping it into your community, and it’s the number-one killer in this epidemic right now. And, by the way, opioid overdoses and death is the number-one cause of death in my home state of Ohio. Nationally it is the number-one cause of death, I’m told, among people under 50 years old. So, it has surpassed car accidents. It’s an epidemic. 

“What can we do about it? There is something we can do about it. We’ve got to be sure that the Post Office helps law enforcement to find these packages as they’re coming in and to get these packages out of circulation so they don’t come into our communities and poison our families, our children, our neighbors. We have legislation to do that. It’s called the STOP Act. One-third of the members of this Senate have now cosponsored that legislation. We’ve now had it reported out of the Finance Committee of the United States Senate. We need to get it to the floor and get it to a vote. It’s really very simple. It is legislation that Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, on the other side of the aisle, and I have come up with that says the Post Office should have to do what any other carrier should have to do—FedEx, UPS, DHL—which is under law they have to tell law enforcement in advance what packages are coming in, where it’s coming from, what’s in it, where it is going. You have to provide that electronically so you can use big data to sift through the millions of packages coming in and find ones that are suspect and then immediately use sophisticated equipment to scan those and screen those and be able to pull those out of circulation that have fentanyl. 

“I’ve been to these distribution centers for these private carrier companies. I’ve seen how they do it. I’ve seen the dangerous work that the Customs and Border Protection men and women are doing, usually in a room that has significant ventilation and they have to have masks on and gloves. They have to be very careful about it. But thank God they’re there because they’re saving lives. But if you send is it through the mail system, that very rarely happens. 

“We did a year-long study of this in our Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations I talked about earlier and we found a number of things that were very troubling. One is just how easy it is to buy fentanyl online. But second, is the fact that these drugs, when they come in through the Post Office, it’s guaranteed delivery. The traffickers will say, ‘if you send it by FedEx or another private carrier, it is not guaranteed. But if you send it through the government agency, no problem.’ That’s not the way it should be. 

“Letter carriers, the mail carriers, in my community and your community, they want this fixed, too, because they care about what comes into their communities. They care about the people they serve and they want to be sure that they’re not delivering poison. They also are at risk, just like anybody else is who’s anywhere in that train. I talked about the law enforcement officers. Think of the other first responders who are using Narcan to revive people. They sometimes get exposed to it. We have too many stories of little kids accidentally dying from being exposed to fentanyl in the home where someone is using it. It’s just dangerous stuff. So we’ve got to fix this. 

“The information as to where it is from, where it’s going, and what’s in it when it’s put into a digital format and can be analyzed quickly through incredible intelligence that our Customs and Border Protection people have to be able to determine whether that package is suspect or not. That will make a huge difference in taking this off-line and keeping this poison from coming in to our communities and ensuring that we can in fact begin to stop some of the poison—but at a minimum raise the price by reducing the supply. 

“The Post Office, frankly, because of the pressure that they’ve gotten from Congress on this over the last few years, has begun to start to look at some of this. They’ve begun to provide some of the electronic data based on testimony that they provided for our Subcommittee just recently, they are now receiving data on about 36 percent of international packages they transport into the country. Unfortunately, of that 36 percent, just about a third, about 80 percent of those packages are presented to law enforcement, 20 percent get lost and end up going into the system, even though we know they’re suspect. So it’s very inefficient right now, it’s not working well, plus of the data, much is not decipherable. So we have a long way to go, even if all 36 percent was being delivered to law enforcement, that would mean that 318 million international packages each year was coming in without any screening. 318 million packages. 

“So the STOP Act is very simple. It just holds the Post Office to the same standard as private carriers, 100 percent screening, and requires that by 2020 they get all this data on all the international packages entering the United States . It is a common-sense solution. It has already passed the House of Representatives recently with a broad, bipartisan vote. Our committee has reported it out. We need to get it to the floor and get it voted on. If we do so, by the way, it will be signed because the administration has already issued a Statement of Administration Policy on it, which supports the legislation. It was actually a recommendation of the president’s commission on opioids. 

“It’s part of the solution. Is it the whole solution? No. But it is a critical part right now to try to stop some of this new poison, this fentanyl, from coming into our communities, the number-one killer so that we can, through treatment and recovery and through better prevention efforts and other better law enforcement efforts, truly begin to turn the tide on this opioid epidemic. It’s critical we do so for so many reasons we’ve talked about this afternoon, and my hope is that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will come together on this issue, the STOP Act, and say, ‘yes, we can do something to help those in our communities who are suffering, those who are dying from overdoses, those families who are looking to us and saying, what can you do to help?’ 

“I run into them all the time. Today I’m heading back to Ohio, and I know that this weekend I will be talking to people in Cleveland, Cincinnati, or I’ll be in Columbus and they would tell me about it. This week I was walking down the hall back to my office on Tuesday and a young man came up to me and says, ‘I just want to talk to you about something.’ And I figured he was with the media, wanted to ask me a question. I stopped and asked him what he wanted and he said, ‘I just wanted to tell you thank you.’ And he started to well up. I knew what he was talking about. He was talking about a family member of his who had overdosed and died and he was talking about the fact that he appreciates that the Congress is finally beginning to respond to this issue, as we have in the last year and a half—we have passed legislation that’s historic here to deal with this issue. But there’s so much more to do. Let’s get the STOP Act into law and therefore be able to save lives and help people be able to live their God-given purpose in life.” 

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