WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor urging the Senate to pass its pending opioid package that includes his bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act to help combat the growing influx of dangerous, synthetic opioids in our communities. Portman highlighted how funding he fought for through the 21st Century CURES legislation enacted in December 2016 has helped fight the heroin and prescription drug epidemic. This funding complements his Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA) legislation and the additional $3 billion in opioid funding in the bipartisan budget agreement enacted earlier this year. Increasing funding is just one aspect of Portman’s efforts to combat this epidemic. He also introduced the bipartisan CARA 2.0 Act to help build on CARA’s successes and provide additional resources and strengthen the federal government’s response to this crisis.  

Said Portman in his speech: “It’s time for Congress to move. This should be noncontroversial. It’s common sense. We know where these drugs are coming from. We know they’re devastating our communities. We know how we can help stop this deadly trend. Let’s pass the STOP Act and pass this broader opioid package as soon as possible and give more Americans who are gripped by addiction a chance to live up to their God-given potential.” 

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

 

“Mr. President, I also want to talk about this issue of opioids and the crisis our country faces. Just in the last couple of weeks we’ve gotten reports from the Centers for Disease Control from last year’s data on overdoses and deaths. 72,000 Americans lost their lives to overdoses last year from drugs. Most of those were from opioids. This is heroin, prescription drugs, and now these synthetic opioids. 72,000 Americans, in the wake of that, it’s encouraging to hear the Senate talk about the possibility of bringing a package to the floor of legislation to push back against this crisis and begin to turn the tide. We have to do it, not just talk about it, but act, because this crisis is upon us and it is very real. 

“These new efforts that we should move forward on will build on what this Senate has already done with regard to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the CARA legislation, that is now being implemented in my state of Ohio and around the country and the 21st Century CURES Act and additional provisions that allowed for states to take funding and use it to fight this opioid addiction. That’s smart because there are smarter ways to fight the opioid epidemic. We know that and we’re beginning to do this. In the federal level we can play a role, among other things, to take best practices around the country in ensuring that those are being used back home in our states. 

“I’ve seen this firsthand because I’ve been around the state of Ohio a lot since the legislation passed. I visited more than a dozen grant recipients of CARA and CURES grants to see what they’re doing, and then spreading that around to other communities, maybe communities that haven’t been able to get the grants but wanted to see something innovative to be able to push back. Last Friday I visited Hope Village Recovery in Portage County, Ohio. They received more than $500,000 in CARA funding to expand a badly needed medication-assisted treatment program. They decided to look at this in a comprehensive way and it is working. Their They’re getting people who normally wouldn’t step up for treatment to come for treatment. Their success rate at getting people through treatment and not relapsing is relatively high. That is so important right now. If you don’t get people into treatment with an addiction, which is a disease, you’re not going to be able to solve this problem. 

“The comprehensive approach includes treatment, counseling, after-care services, peer support—these are coaches in recovery themselves—transportation services to get people back and forth. This holistic approach is what we need to help people begin to heal, get over their addiction, get back to their families, back to work, back to achieving their God-given purpose in life, which is not to be an addict using these drugs. 

“Last week I also visited CommQuest Recovery Services in Stark County, Ohio, to see their new program—innovative program called the ‘Mom and Me’ program. These are moms who want to help to get over their addiction, they are struggling. This program allows them to come on board to this facility that I got to see to be able to have some of the loving support and care from people around them but also to have their kids come with them. This is very unusual. Very few treatment centers in the country allow children to come into the treatment program. We have found, again through evidence based programs, if you allow the kids there and there’s proper supervision, it helps. It helps the mothers heal, it helps the kids to heal. This is an innovative program that will end up with great results and they’re just getting started on it. It will foster the kind of success that we want to see. 

“Programs like these are working, and, yet, the epidemic seems to be getting worse. Why is that? Well, because we need to do more of this evidence-based stuff. We need to be sure that every community has the opportunity to provide treatment because a lot of people still can’t get treatment. We need to encourage people not to go down this funnel of addiction by much more effective and stronger prevention and education programs. There are things that we have to do. CARA 2.0 has now been introduced. That legislation I’ve introduced to ensure that those programs that are working get additional help so the states can do more and leverage some of these federal dollars to be able to do more with the private sector and with the states to be able to help turn this tide of addiction. 

“In the meantime, I talked about the 72,000 lives lost last year, that was a record number. Here’s a map of the states. This is a map of the change in overdose deaths from last year. If it’s purple or bluish, they are doing better. Look at this map, almost every state, unfortunately is not purple or blue. They are tan or brown, and they indicate, as in my state of Ohio, an increase of overdose deaths last year. Why is this? I think one of the main reasons for this is because there’s a new danger afoot. There’s a new scourge in drugs, it’s very powerful. It’s 50 times more powerful than heroin. It’s very inexpensive, and it’s coming primarily from China and coming primarily through our Postal Service, if you can believe it. It is called synthetic opioids. Fentanyl is the name most of it is called, some is called carfentanil, but this synthetic opioid is now the biggest problem that we have back in our states. This is the growing crisis. Here’s a chart that shows what happened since 2015 until now. It shows that, in fact, methamphetamines, other opioids, heroin, cocaine, they are relatively flat. But look at this big increase, it is with synthetic opioids. When you look at the 72,000 deaths from last year, the majority was from opioids and increasingly it is from the synthetic opioids. What I hear from the frontlines in Ohio, whether it’s the Hope Village or CommQuest facility, is that unless we combat this influx of fentanyl, we will not be able to turn the tide. Because despite some of the good work that’s being done, we are being overrun with this fentanyl. 

“Over the last week alone in the Columbus, Ohio, area, the Franklin County coroner has handled 18 overdose deaths, five within 24 hours. Imagine that. The cause, the coroner suspects, is fentanyl. If you look at some of these deaths that we talked about, the 72,000, even deaths that have occured from people who thought they were taking cocaine or something else, often it’s because the fentanyl has been used and sprinkled into the drugs. It is 50 times more powerful, as I said, and that’s the new scourge of the opioid epidemic. 

“From 2013 to 2017, fentanyl overdose deaths nationally have increased by 850 percent. As the coroner’s reports for 2017 continue to come in throughout my home state of Ohio, fentanyl appears to be involved in two-thirds of the deaths in Ohio. And that’s consistent with what I’m hearing on the frontlines. Unbelievably, we know where it’s coming from and we’re not doing enough to stop it. It’s being made in laboratories in China primarily and other countries and shipped into the United States through our own Postal Service, a government agency. We conducted an 18-month investigation in a subcommittee I chair called the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. We had undercover people working with us, we found out how easy it is to purchase fentanyl shipped to the United States of America. Based on our undercover investigation, fentanyl can be found through a simple Google search, overseas sellers we accessed essentially told us they will guarantee delivery if this poison is sent through the United States Postal Service. They won’t guarantee it if it goes through a private carrier, so UPS, DHL or FedEx. Why is that? That’s because the private carriers are required to provide law enforcement with electronic data in advance as to what the packages are, where they are coming from, where they are going, what’s in them. Law enforcement can then use big data, use their algorithms, figure out which packages are suspect and get them off the lines. I have seen it. I have been at those facilities. I have seen those big packages taken off and lives saved. At a minimum, this will increase the cost on the street. 

“The ultimate answer to this is prevention, education, a change in our hearts and our families. Better treatment so people who have this disease can get the treatment just like another illness they might have. Dealing with this issue of longer-term recovery, which leads to more success and treatment, those are all essential, but right now we have to put a tourniquet on this folks! We have to stop the fentanyl from flooding into our country. Look at what it is doing, 850 percent increase. The information tells law enforcement what they need to be able to pull these packages off if it’s provided, and, yet, unbelievably, although the private carriers are required to do it and have since 9/11, the Post Office has been spared. 

“Meanwhile, because of pressure from the Congress, the Post Office is starting to look at some of these packages. Last year they now testified before us in the subcommittee that they did receive data on about 36 percent of the international packages, not 100 percent as the other carriers do, but 36 percent, that means that more than 318 million packages are coming in with little or no screening at all without this data. Even when the Post Office conducted a pilot program to screen for these drugs, by the way, 80 percent of the time, they testified, these packages that were targeted by Customs and Border Protection were able to be pulled off. But in 20 percent of the time, they did not get the information to law enforcement. Also in many cases the information provided was not useful to law enforcement. 

“We need to ensure it is 100 percent of these packages, that all of this is getting to law enforcement and that the information is useful and legible. The bipartisan STOP Act is actually an answer to this. The STOP Act is very simple. My co-author of the STOP Act is Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. As we have both said, this is a simple, common-sense, and quite frankly, long-overdue reform that says let’s hold the Post Office to the same standard that we hold these private carriers to. Let’s say they have to provide this data to law enforcement so we can begin to address this issue and push back to keep this poison out of our communities. This bill has been approved for a floor vote on the Republican side. I think it’s very close to being approved for a floor vote on the Democratic side. We’re close to a consent to get this broader opioids package to the floor as well. I’m very pleased that we’re taking up that package this month. 

“We need to ensure that whatever concerns people have that they are very frank about it. We’ve got to get the politics out of this. We have to be sure we’re moving forward as we have been able to do on the CARA legislation and the CURES legislation, not just on a bipartisan basis but a nonpartisan basis. This scourge is affecting all of our constituents. We have to address it at the federal level to help our states, families, and communities to be able to respond. The broader package, the opioid package, would include the STOP Act but it also would include some other important legislation. A number of provisions are from CARA 2.0, such as the National Recovery Housing Standards, recovery support programs for high school and college students struggling with addiction – which has worked really well in Ohio – and $60 million for a plan of safe care for babies who are born dependent on substances. These babies who are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome who are innocent small babies often born premature. I have been to neonatal units around our hospitals in Ohio and seen these babies. It is so sad. They have to be taken through withdrawal as a tiny baby. We need to ensure we do a better job of preventing that and work with the moms as they become pregnant by ensuring that these kids get the help they need. 

“It also includes the CRIB Act, bipartisan legislation that would help newborns suffering from addiction recover in the best setting and provide support for the families. This is bipartisan. It helps to ensure that these babies, when they are born with this neonatal abstinence syndrome, that they get the love and care they need. It’s working in these organizations that are doing it but they need help. They need Medicaid reimbursement they cannot get currently. The bill reauthorizes a number of important programs with a proven record of success like the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Courts, Drug Free Community prevention grants, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grants, which is law enforcement that focuses on drug interdiction in some of the worst areas of our country for drug use and drug addiction. And the STOP Act must be part of that Senate bill as well. Anything we offer to help deal with this issue of opioids has to include stopping the fentanyl from coming in. 

“Mr. President, it’s time for Congress to move. This should be noncontroversial. It’s common sense. We know where these drugs are coming from. We know they’re devastating our communities. We know how we can help stop this deadly trend. Let’s pass the STOP Act and pass this broader opioid package as soon as possible and give more Americans who are gripped by addiction a chance to live up to their God-given potential.” 

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