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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman continues to tour the state meeting with those in recovery and those on the front lines working to turn the tide of the heroin and prescription drug epidemic. Today on the Senate floor, he shared stories from his recent visits and urged his colleagues to act on the bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP), legislation he introduced earlier this year. At Racing for Recovery in Holland, during a roundtable in Fremont, in a workshop in Columbus, and just this weekend at Clean Acre Farms in Wilmington, Portman saw firsthand why this legislation is needed. Portman also discussed how his bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), legislation that is now being implemented, is helping tackle this epidemic.

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

“Madam president, this is the 32nd time I have come to the floor in the last year to talk about an issue that, unfortunately, is getting worse, not better, and that is the epidemic of opioids. That would be heroin, prescription drugs and now more recently synthetic heroin, also known as fentanyl, or U-4, or carfentanil. Every single day we are now losing 144 Americans to drug overdoses. Think about that. Every single day, 144 people. By the way, that means that during the time that it takes to give these remarks, which will be about 12 minutes, on average we’re losing another American to this opioid epidemic. 

“It’s an issue that is now so serious that it has overtaken car accidents or even homicides from gun violence as the number one cause of death in our country. It’s easy to get discouraged because we see the statistics, we hear about the deaths and the difficulty for people to get out of this grip of this addiction. The relapse rate is high. It’s an issue that is affecting every single community in this chamber. And, by the way, it’s affecting our inner cities; it’s affecting our suburbs; it’s affecting our rural areas and every group of Americans out there. No one is immune from this and it knows no ZIP code. 

“Yet, today I want to talk a little about some of the reasons for hope and some of the models of success out there because this Congress, to its credit, in the last year has actually gotten much more serious about this issue. We passed two pieces of legislation to help, particularly to provide better prevention and education to keep people from getting into the funnel of addiction, and, second, to help in terms of providing the resources, the treatment, the recovery -- the longer-term recovery, in particular, for the first time, Congress has stepped up on that. We also need to do a better job to ensure that our law enforcement has what they need and our other first responders have what they need to be able to save lives and to be able to reverse the effects of overdoses through this miracle drug called Naloxone, or Narcan. That’s part of this legislation, too, that has now been not just passed but is beginning to get implemented. 

“Fortunately, in my own state of Ohio, although we have one of the worst addiction problems in the country, we also have a lot of compassionate people who have stepped forward and are taking advantage of these resources, including from Washington now, but also from state, local governments and so many nonprofits out there. They are taking advantage of that to provide better treatment, better recovery, and better prevention. As a result, they are saving lives. On Saturday I visited a group called Clean Acres in Wilmington, Ohio. It’s a farm. It provides recovery housing for men. These are men who are struggling with addiction. They work on the farm. They provide each other support and it’s been very successful for a lot of them. 

“I met a guy named Dan who told me how Clean Acres is helping to get his life back. He was a heroin addict. He shot up every morning until one day he was actually at work and he passed out. He was digging a ditch and he passed out. He was rushed to the hospital. The doctors discovered he had a very serious infection related to his intravenous drug use that required life-saving surgery right then. The doctors told him he might not wake up. He did wake up after the surgery. There before him were his three kids. He hadn’t seen them in five years. In so many cases you see this. Dan said that the drugs became everything -- not his family, not his relationship with friends, not his work, but drugs became everything.  But these three kids had come to his bedside, what they thought might have been his deathbed, he said. He saw these three kids, he hadn’t seen them in five years, he said that even after having experienced this near-death operation and having his three kids there, the first thought that came to his mind was ’where can I another hit?’ Where can I get another hit? But then in the situation he was in, he prayed, and he said his prayer was ‘Lord, help me get out of here.’ Help me get out of here—meaning help me get out of this situation. And he made a decision. He was going to try treatment again. He had tried treatment before, and so many recovering addicts and addicts I talk to around my state have been in and out of treatment programs. Detox and treatment that hasn’t worked. But he decided this time that he was not just going to get into treatment, he was going to try something different which was not to go back to his old neighborhood, not to go back to his old friends but instead to try longer-term recovery and that’s how he ended up at Clean Acres. This is this farm where he and the other men live together; they work, but they support each other to try to keep their life on track after their treatment is over. 

“It doesn’t provide the treatment, but it does provide them with the meetings they need to be able to have that support around them in order to keep clean. As one of the men told me at Clean Acres, ‘it’s hard to go through treatment. It’s much harder to stay clean after treatment.’ So he’s healing himself. He’s working at the farm. He plans to go into construction. He’s got big plans now. And that’s the hope. That’s the opportunity for people to get their life back on track that I see every day when I talk to people in my home state of Ohio. 

“Last week, I was also at Racing for Recovery outside Toledo, Ohio. I met with Todd Crandell, the founder of that group. Todd has been in recovery for about 20 years. He is now giving back in a huge way. I met with parents who had lost children to addiction. They come to Todd’s organization, Racing for Recovery, and, again, they find support there and they find other parents to help work through this. I met law enforcement there who are working with this recovery facility to try to ensure that the people who they are locking up aren’t going to get right back into the revolving door again, back in-and-out of prison, back to committing crimes. The number one cause of crime in the state of Ohio is this addiction. People who, again, put the drug first ahead of everything including their own sense, their own conscience, their own sense of what is moral and right and instead they are committing burglaries and fraud and shoplifting, anything they can do to get the funds they need to continue their addiction. 

“I met Jessica at Racing for Recovery. She’s been clean for nine months. Before she sought help, she overdosed for three days in a row. She says her life was saved by the police, specifically, a program by the Lucas County Police Department called the Drug Abuse Response Team, DART. I’m really impressed with DART and what they are doing. And it’s now being copied in other communities around Ohio and the country. DART was very pro-active. It got her engaged in treatment and recovery. She is now in sober housing. Todd, Jessica and others there told me this: they said ‘look, you have got to have this longer term recovery, because that’s what works.’

“A couple of weeks ago during the state work period, I held a roundtable discussion in Fremont, Ohio, where I met Matt Bell, who is the founder of something called Team Recovery. Matt is an amazing guy. He is a very charismatic, young guy. For him, the gateway drug was marijuana and alcohol in high school. He ended up overdosing on heroin three times. He was convicted of 13 felonies. He went to detox 28 times. Now he is clean and preventing new addictions from taking place by working nonstop to help raise awareness of the dangers of drug use. He goes around to schools and he doesn’t just talk to kids who are juniors and seniors. He talks to middle schoolers because he knows that he’s got to go younger and younger to get kids to think about their own futures, the fact that this is one use sometimes, something that can ruin their lives. And thank God for Todd. Thank God for Matt, because guys like that are out there every day giving back, and they are saving lives. 

“So all these compassionate people I’ve met at Clean Acres, Racing for Recovery, Lucas County DART team, Team Recovery, they’re doing the hard work, they’re in the trenches, trying to actually turn the tide on this growing addiction problem we have. Again, I want to tell them help is on the way. Last year, congress did pass the 21st Century CURES Act and authorized funding for the states. Actually, $500 million this year and $500 million next year to fight this epidemic. 

“Another step we took, which is what I think is probably the biggest step we have taken in a couple of decades in this place, in this area, is to pass what’s called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. That’s CARA. And for those of you who know about CARA, you know that it’s a new approach on treatment and recovery and prevention. If you don’t know about it, look it up, check it out. Be sure that the groups in your town, wherever you live, know about the fact that they can apply now for grant money to be able to help on these recovery services that I talked about, many of which do not have the funding to be able to be successful, but also on treatment and rehab and be sure that people know about the fact that if you have a fire department in your community that’s strapped for cash and can’t afford the Narcan or the Narcan treatment, there is an opportunity to apply for grants there too to be able to save lives from overdoses. Narcan is not the answer; the answer is to get people into treatment, but it is saving lives and therefore necessary today. So let people know that’s around, that’s available now. 

“Sadly, the situation is not getting better, even with these new efforts that are finally being implemented by the new administration. They started at the end of the Obama administration a couple of programs, now we have a couple more programs coming online. Within the next few months, we expect the rest of the programs to be fully implemented. They are absolutely necessary, but they are pushing up against something new. Which is, I hate to say, even more dangerous than heroin, and that’s this synthetic heroin that’s coming into our communities. 

“It’s like a poison coming into our communities by the U.S. mail system, if you can believe it. The experts tell us, experts say that most of this fentanyl, as it’s called, or carfentanil is being made in laboratories overseas, mostly in China. And it’s then coming through the mail system. Why? Because the traffickers don’t want to use other private carriers, UPS or FedEx or others because they require that there be advanced digital information on where the package is from, what’s in it, where it’s going. Guess what? We don’t require that in the mail system. So the bad guys choose to send it through the mail system instead. Well, that certainly is something the federal government ought to address. So we’ve introduced legislation. It’s called the STOP Act. It’s very simple. It says that if you want to send something to the United States of America, it’s got to say where it’s from, what place in China, what’s in it, in the package, where is it going. And of course it’s only going to go to the place where they say it’s going. That gives our law enforcement a new tool that they are desperate to have because they’re not going to be able to look at a million packages, but they can look at hundreds. And this helps them to be able to ferret out those packages that look most suspicious.

“By the way, this new stuff, this fentanyl, this carfentanil, it’s incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous. It’s believed to be 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Think about that. I was in Dayton, Ohio, week before last and meeting with the law enforcement task force there, they told me the sad story about a little girl—14 years old—who was told by her friends you ought to snort this stuff, it’s called heroin. She did. It was fentanyl. She dropped dead. Overdosed and died immediately because it’s so powerful. Even a few flakes of it, they say, can kill you. 

“According to the Cleveland Medical Examiner in Cleveland, Ohio, just last month in February, which of course is the shortest month of the year was also the deadliest month in northeast Ohio for fentanyl and heroin. In other words, what they’re seeing is not just more overdoses but more deaths because of this fentanyl being mixed in with heroin and sometimes fentanyl in its pure form. In just 28 days in February, 60 Clevelanders died from overdoses from these drugs. This is one city in America. 60 people died in one month. There are another seven cases that are still undergoing tests, but they are suspected to be the result of heroin and fentanyl overdoses. 

“What’s driving the growth of this epidemic is the increasing use of fentanyl. Drug traffickers are lacing other drugs with it. I was told by the DART Task Force in Toledo that they’re actually sprinkling fentanyl in marijuana now, and people are showing up in the emergency room and overdosing on marijuana because it’s sprinkled with fentanyl. It’s more addictive, so the traffickers like it. It’s more deadly, so we need to fight back. The Drug Enforcement Administration says it takes two milligrams of fentanyl to kill you. By the way, that’s about the same as a pinch of salt. Many heroin users don’t realize that the heroin they buy on the street may contain these new, incredibly powerful synthetic drugs, so part of the message has to be what one father told me, which is, you are playing Russian roulette every time you use these drugs, because you don’t know what’s in it. And if there is fentanyl in it, there’s a good chance that you will not just overdose, but you will end up one of these statistics we talked about earlier. 

“In Lorain, Ohio, last Monday, a 29-year-old man drove off the road and nearly hit a tree. When police arrived, they found him unconscious from an overdose with a baby in the back seat. A baby in the back seat. It took several doses of this naloxone to reverse the effects of the overdose. Ordinarily it would take one dose, but with fentanyl-laced heroin, it takes more. When police went to his home, a child answered the door and said, ‘mommy is sleeping and we can’t wake her up.’ Again, this is the guy who had overdosed in the car. They take the kid home. Another kid says mommy won’t wake up. They find out the mother is also unconscious from a heroin overdose that she had in front of her four children. According to the police, the couple thought they were using heroin, but tests confirmed it was laced with fentanyl. 

“So, again, this is an opportunity for us in the United States Congress to pass legislation that will help to be able to stop some of this poison from coming into our communities, and, at a minimum, raise the price, because some of this fentanyl, I’m told, is less expensive than even the things that are less powerful, like heroin. 

“Fentanyl took the life of Erin Jarvis of Troy, Ohio. Erin was the prom queen. Erin was very popular. She was active in student government. She was captain of her soccer team. She got good grades. She got into Ohio University, a great school. She had multiple knee injuries from playing soccer that required surgery. She was prescribed Percocet. She became addicted. At Ohio University, a friend introduced her to a drug that was stronger, cheaper and easier to get. Of course that was heroin. This story I’ve heard so many times. The overprescribing, sometimes because of an accident and an injury, somebody becoming addicted and then turning to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get. Erin began disappearing for days at a time, stealing from her family. Her mom Kelly started missing jewelry, credit cards, computers, even a TV set. When her sister got her wisdom teeth out, Erin stole her Percocet. By the way, she never should have been given Percocet for that wisdom tooth, in my view. Erin finally got help. She went to rehab. She decided she wanted to become a nurse and help others struggling with addiction. After receiving treatment, she moved back in with her mom, but she relapsed and she died. She died at the age of 24 with this promising life ahead of her. Her last words to her mom were I love you. The next day, Kelly watched her daughter get taken out of their home in a body bag. Tests showed that Erin died of an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl. According to the coroner, she hadn’t even used a full injection. There was a lot left in the needle. He said, ‘I suspect that what was in that syringe was not what she thought it was.’ Exactly. 

“Families who have loved ones struggling with addiction are worried about the poison now pouring into our streets, and you can see why. As deadly as heroin is, this stuff is even worse. Again, to keep this poison off of our streets, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Rubio, Senator Hassan and I have introduced bipartisan legislation, the Synthetic Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act or STOP Act which would require the postal service to require this simple information. It would give our law enforcement the ability to target these packages of fentanyl. Based on expert testimony we’ve had at hearings before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, it would make it easier for them to detect those packages. It’s what law enforcement is asking for. We should provide it to them. 

“There is a bill in the House that’s identical to ours introduced by Congressman Pat Tiberi and Congressman Rich Neal of Ohio and Massachusetts. This is not the silver bullet, as I said. It’s not the solution. No one has that silver bullet. But it would take away a key tool of drug traffickers and restrict the supply of these drugs, raising the prices, making it harder to get. That would save lives. And with the threat of this synthetic heroin, this poison coming into our communities every day, we need to act and act now. 

“So, Madam President, I would urge my colleagues, one, let their constituents know about the help that’s on the way. Tell them about what’s going on with the CURES Act and the CARA legislation. Put it on your web site so they know that they can get help with regard to treatment and recovery that was not previously out there. Our law enforcement and first responders and firefighters can get the help they need to be able to get the training and have the funds for narcan to save lives. And we could do much better in terms of prevention and education. Some of this grant money is directed toward letting people know this connection between prescription drugs and heroin and between fentanyl and heroin. And finally to my colleagues, please join us in pushing back against these new poisons coming into our communities by cosponsoring the STOP Act, by requiring that this information, this basic information be provided. And with more cosponsors, I think our leadership will be much more likely to take that to the floor, and if it gets to the floor, it will pass, because people know that in their communities all over this country, this epidemic must be stopped. Thank you, Madam President.”

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