Bipartisan Bill Will Help Stop the Influx of Deadly Synthetic Drugs Like Fentanyl

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After introducing the bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act earlier this week, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor today to urge his colleagues to take action.  Portman, who delivered 29 speeches on the Senate floor last year urging action on the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), legislation that is now being implemented, introduced the STOP Act to help stop the influx of deadly synthetic drugs coming into our communities from places like China. In a visit with Dayton area law enforcement on Monday, and in meetings with those in the trenches in the fight against addiction all over the state, Portman hears about the growing threat of synthetic heroins like fentanyl and the continued spike in overdoses. That is why Portman is urging his colleagues to act.

A transcript of the speech can be found below and the video can be found here. 

“Mr. President, I rise today to talk about this issue of opioids, heroin, prescription drugs, now fentanyl coming into our communities. It’s at epidemic levels. We have worked on this issue over the last year in a bipartisan way and have made progress, but I come to the floor today to report bad news and also to report something that Congress could do to help address a new problem. There was a report recently that came out by the U.S.-China Commission that was very disturbing. It said that there is a new influx of what’s called fentanyl coming in from China. This is a synthetic form of heroin. It can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Think about that. The report says, and I quote, ‘The majority of fentanyl products found in the United States originate in China. Chinese law enforcement officials have struggled to adequately regulate the thousands of chemical and pharmaceutical facilities operating legally and illegally in the country leading to increased production and export of illicit chemicals and drugs. Chinese chemical exporters covertly ship these drugs to the western hemisphere.’ So, that comes from an official report from this Commission on U.S.-China. And it’s confirmed, unfortunately, back home.

“So I was home this week meeting with law enforcement on Monday, and they told me, ‘Rob, the top issue in our community is now not heroin, it’s fentanyl. It’s this synthetic form of heroin that is far more powerful.’ And at least in their minds, they think that it is also more effective at making people addicted because it is less expensive and the trafficking of it is more aggressive. So this is a big concern because we were finally, I thought, making some progress on the prescription drugs and the heroin and now this fentanyl, carfentanil, U-4—it goes by various names depending on the chemical compounds—are coming into our communities.

“It’s truly scary. The consequences are, I hope, obvious to everybody now.  We’re losing one American every 12 minutes. This speech will be about 12 minutes. We’ll lose another American to an overdose. But, it’s getting worse, not better. And, by the way, it’s everywhere. Last year, in 2016, every single state in the union had at least one forensic lab test positive for fentanyl. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of positive forensic tests for fentanyl in the United States doubled, in fact, from 2014 to 2015. We believe it’s worse—we know it’s worse—for 2016 from the information we have. And, unfortunately, even this year, this month-and-a-half, we have seen more and more evidence of fentanyl coming into our communities.

“According to the U.S.-China commission’s report the top designation for Chinese fentanyl, by the way, is my home state of Ohio. We have more positive tests for fentanyl than any other state. By the way, Massachusetts, to my colleague who has been involved in this issue and worked on this issue and helped to try to stop the overprescribing of prescription drugs, Massachusetts was number two. And we’re talking 3,800 positive tests for fentanyl in Ohio alone. I do believe that this is something that’s being confirmed at the local level, not just because of my meeting on Monday, but because of what I’m hearing from around the state. Just two days after the commission’s report came out in Butler County, Ohio police seized $180,000 in fentanyl-laced heroin after suspected fentanyl overdoses killed five people in just two days. Drug overdoses in Butler County, by the way, have nearly tripled since 2012.

“When I was in Dayton, I met with the Dayton R.A.N.G.E., which is a task force, a law enforcement task force, Regional Agencies Narcotics and Gun Enforcement task force. They told me that this is now their biggest problem and they said because it’s stronger there are more overdoses and more deaths than there are with a similar amount of heroin or number of people using heroin. They said that just over a two-week period they had seized more than 40 pounds of drugs off the streets, including six pounds of fentanyl last week. Now, six pounds of fentanyl, as I do the math, is at least 20,000 doses. 20,000 doses in one town in Ohio. I want to thank Montgomery County Sheriff Plummer, the task force and all our law enforcement for their work in getting this poison off the streets, but they need our help. They need some additional tools.

“They told me about a 14-year-old girl who had tried fentanyl for the first time. She had never tried apparently any other drug, and she snorted it. The people she was with had snorted drugs before. She had not. Which is one reason she not only overdosed, she died immediately. And at 14 years old, her promising life was cut short. It was in the Dayton suburb of Enon a little more than a week ago, that a five-year-old boy was seen running down the streets yelling ‘Mom and Dad are dead! Mom and Dad are dead!’ A driver saw the boy, called the police; they went to his house, found his parents. They weren’t dead, fortunately, but they were unconscious. Mom was on the kitchen floor; his dad on the living room floor. His skin had already turned blue which is a sign of someone who overdoses and is close to death. The first responders heroically saved both of them using Narcan, Naloxone, this miracle drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. By the way, it took six doses of Naloxone to revive the boy’s father—a good sign, according to law enforcement, that this was not heroin, but it was heroin laced with fentanyl, something far stronger than the normal heroine. Six doses.

“We saw a 37 percent increase in drug overdose deaths last year in Dayton, Ohio. Victims as old as 87 and as young as two years old. Drug overdose deaths in Dayton are now on pace this year to be even more dramatic. 54 deaths already in the last month-and-a-half, which is more than any month-and-a-half last year. 235 people have had their lives saved with Naloxone. The Dayton Fire Department’s call volume went up 17 percent compared to last January already. So again, not getting better; getting worse.

It’s not just Dayton. It’s not just cities. This addiction knows no zip code: suburbs, rural areas, inner cities, it’s everywhere, and, by the way, all demographics. In Medina County in Northeast Ohio, their overdoses doubled from 2015 to 2016. In Darke County, north of Dayton in a rural county, they are on pace to quadruple last year’s number of drug overdoses already this year. So why are these increases happening? One of the reasons is because of the increasing potency of these drugs on the street, particularly again this move from heroin to synthetic heroin that’s more powerful. Dayton paramedic David Gerstner puts it this way: ‘I don’t want to say our overdose rate has increased dramatically—because that doesn’t even come close to covering it…The potency of the drugs has increased [to the point that i]nstead of [patients needing] two milligrams [of naloxone] or four milligrams of naloxone, we’ve had patients who needed 20 milligrams or more.’ Again, many doses of Narcan, also called naloxone, to be able to save these lives. 

“In Darke County, which again is north of Dayton, the Rescue Chief Brian Phillips says: ‘with the introduction of new illegally made synthetic opiates [like] fentanyl and Carfentanil, heroin users are overdosing at a rapid rate. These derivatives are much more potent and deadlier. The majority of our overdoses are not breathing and in some cases are in complete cardiac arrest. We are also finding ourselves using more Narcan to resuscitate these patients.So this is the word from those who are in the trenches dealing with this every day. It’s not good news. In just the first week of February, by the way, in his department in Darke County, Ohio, they had 12 overdose calls in the first week of February. This is a town of 13,000 people. So it’s clear that these drugs are getting on the street that are stronger, more addictive, more dangerous. 

“Heroin is already addictive enough. And relatively inexpensive compared to prescription drugs, which is why many people move from prescription drugs to heroin. Probably four out of five heroin addicts in Ohio started with prescription drugs according to the experts. Now it is being laced with this more powerful synthetic drug. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation tested 34 cases of fentanyl in 2010. In 2015 they tested 1,100, a 30-fold increase. Last year that number doubled again to 2,400 cases and again they have already tested for a record-breaking number this year in the last month and a half. According to the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network, you can buy small doses of heroin and fentanyl for as little as $5 to $10 now in southwest Ohio. 

“A lot of parents and family members of those struggling with addiction are worried about this and it’s very easy to see why. As the coroner in Butler County said, ‘buying heroin today is like playing Russian roulette. People don’t know what’s in the product they’re going to use and it may not be the same from one use to the next.’ The coroner of my hometown of Cincinnati, Lakshmi Sammarco put it like this: ‘if you buy heroin you may be gambling with your life,’ because it’s more dangerous than ever. We’ve got to get that message out there. We’ve not done a good job of communicating this basic message that you are gambling with your life.

“Dr. Richard Marsh, Clark County Coroner, says ‘we’re seeing a lot more fentanyl than heroin. It started about the middle of 2015…There are all kinds of labs producing it now and a lot of people think they’re buying heroin when in fact they’re getting fentanyl, which is 50 times as powerful.’ By the way, how powerful is that?  Let me give you an example. According to the D.E.A., Drug Enforcement Administration, it takes only two milligrams of fentanyl—about the same as a pinch of salt—think about that, to kill you. That’s how powerful it is. 

“So again, going back to this U.S.-China commission report, they say most of these synthetic drugs are being made in labs in China and being shipped to the western hemisphere, to our country, to our communities. How is it coming in? People are surprised to learn that it’s coming in through the mail system. These deadly poisons are coming in through the mail system. So, unlike heroin which primarily goes over land, primarily from Mexico, these drugs are actually coming in from Asia, from China and India, through the mail system. Unlike the private mail carriers like UPS or FedEx, our mail system does not require that people say where the package is coming from, what’s in it or where it’s going. I think people are kind of surprised to hear that, too. That of course makes it easier for the traffickers and much harder for our law enforcement to be able to deal with this problem. They can’t scan these packages that are suspect for drugs like fentanyl or other smuggled products because there’s just too many packages, millions of packages. But if they had that information—if that was required on every package, electronically in advance, digitally, this data, where it’s coming from, what’s in it, where it’s going—our law enforcement officials tell us they’d have a better shot at being able to stop this poison, to be able to identify those packages.

“I applaud my colleagues because with the CURES Act that passed at the end of last year, we provided much more funding to our community, particularly to our states, $500 million going out to our states to be able to deal with the issue of drug treatment and recovery services. That’s very important. That $500 million, by the way, is this year and next year. That’s really important to fight the epidemic. I also of course applaud my colleagues with regard to the legislation called CARA, Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. This provides us with not just more funding but better practices with regard to prevention, education, treatment and recovery and providing the police with Narcan training and more Narcan resources to our first responders we talked about. 

“So again, in the last year Congress has taken some important steps forward and I commend the House and Senate for that. By the way, it was bipartisan from the start. And I think that’s beginning to make a difference. I wish the programs in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act could be implemented more quickly. Unfortunately, there’s still five more CARA grant programs that have yet to be implemented. Many of us pushed the last administration; now we’re pushing this administration to move quickly on that because this crisis is out there in our communities now. We need the help but we’re getting that in place and it’s important. 

“But we now need to build on those efforts because of this synthetic heroin coming in. And an obvious step to me would be to simply say that the Postal Service has to require what the private carriers require so these traffickers aren’t favoring the Postal Service and so we can begin to stop some of this dangerous synthetic drug from coming into our communities, but also so that we can give law enforcement a tool to be able to target and so that, at a minimum, we can increase the cost of this poison coming into our communities. It seems common sense to me. 

“This week Senators Klobuchar, Hassan, Rubio and I introduced legislation called the Synthetic Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, or STOP Act. We just introduced it two days ago. It simply closes the loophole and requires the Postal Service to obtain advance electronic data along the lines I talked about: where it’s from, what’s in it, where it’s going. In the House, by the way, there’s companion legislation which makes it easier to get this done because the House also understands this problem. My colleague, Congressman Pat Tiberi from Ohio is one of the people who is focused on this, he’s one of the cosponsors. The other one is from Massachusetts – Richie Neal. Their companion legislation will make it easier to get this job done. 

“This bill is totally bipartisan. In fact, I’d call it nonpartisan. It is based on expert testimony we had before our Homeland Security Committee where we heard directly from law enforcement. It is a simple change that would make it much easier for them to detect these packages, and particularly those from these Chinese labs that the commission report talked about. It is not a silver bullet. No one has that silver bullet. But our bill will take away a key took of drug traffickers and help restrict the supply of these drugs, this poison in our community, again making their prices higher and making them harder to get. With the threat of synthetic heroin getting worse and worse every day, there is an urgency to this. So today, I would urge my colleagues to join us. Join us in this legislation, cosponsor it and let’s get this thing through the committees, the Finance Committee would be taking up this legislation. I’m on that committee. I hope they will move very quickly to mark it up, to get it to the floor, to pass the legislation here in the United States Senate, combine it with the legislation that’s working through the House, get it to the president to his desk for signature, and to begin to provide some relief to our communities from this influx of these synthetic heroins that are continuing to tear our families apart, devastate our communities, and ruin lives. 

“This is about ensuring that young people, like the young people who are with us today, the pages on the floor, have the opportunity to pursue their dream, whatever it is. This is about ensuring that we are stepping up as the United States Congress to deal with a global problem. It’s coming in from overseas. It’s an international problem. Certainly this is one where the United States Congress ought to act to ensure that our United States Postal Service does the right thing to help law enforcement be able to better protect our communities. I thank you, Mr. President, for the time and I yield back.”  

###