Congressman Ryan introduces bill to toughen fentanyl laws as Trumbull fentanyl deaths rise


By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

WARREN

On the heels of a second spike in fentanyl-related drug-overdose deaths in Trumbull County three months ago, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, has teamed up with a Florida congressman to toughen federal laws related to its sale.

Ryan and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, last week introduced the Stop Trafficking in Fentanyl Act of 2015, a bill that amends the Controlled Substances Act “to ensure the law appropriately reflects the potency of the opioid fentanyl.”

“Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous ... drug that has recently been attributed to an increase of fatal overdoses. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s assessment is that fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin,” Ryan said.

“Fentanyl is typically prescribed for pharmaceutical purposes, usually to ease extreme pain for patients in final stages of diseases like cancer. The drug is similar to morphine but can be up to 100 times more powerful,” the release says.

The act would reduce the amount of fentanyl needed to invoke the most-serious trafficking penalties for an individual trafficking and manufacturing the drug. The bill would lower the threshold that triggers federal penalties from 400 grams to 20 grams.

The DEA has issued warnings to law enforcement that fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin, and accidental inhalation of airborne powder also can occur, Ryan said.

DEA statistics indicate that Ohio may have one of the most significant fentanyl-related problems in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ohio ranked No. 1 in the country in the number of times state investigators confiscated fentanyl and turned it over to a lab for analysis from 2012 through 2014.

Of 4,585 confiscations nationally, 1,245 were in Ohio, nearly double the next-highest state, Massachusetts with 630, followed by Pennsylvania with 419, Maryland with 311 and New Jersey with 238.

Ohio had 514 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2014, compared with 93 in 2013. Florida had 397 fatal overdoses attributable to fentanyl in 2014, up from 185 in 2013.

“Ohio has seen yet another record-breaking year for overdose-related deaths, many due to fentanyl,” Ryan said. “We are losing too many of our friends, neighbors and relatives to this destructive drug epidemic.”

Statistics released by the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office last week indicate that the county had 66 overdose deaths through Oct. 6, which is more than the highest number on record – 64 in 2007.

Of the 66 who died, fentanyl was either the only drug or one of multiple drugs found in the deceased person’s blood, the coroner’s office said.

The statistics also back up the theory by a Warren police lieutenant who alerted the public Sept. 11 that a “pure white” form of heroin in the city was causing a spike in overdoses.

Lt. Greg Hoso said he revived one person with the overdose antidote naloxone Sept. 11 and knew of many others. He said it appeared the pure-white form of heroin people were using was laced with something, possibly fentanyl.

Warren and Liberty had three fentanyl-related overdoses within one week of his warning, according to the coroner’s office.

One person died of fentanyl and cocaine Sept. 13 in Warren, one died of a fentanyl overdose in Liberty Sept. 13, and one died of fentanyl and cocaine Sept. 18 in Warren.

There also were three other overdose deaths between Sept. 10 and Sept. 18 – heroin Oct. 10 in Warren, heroin and benzoylecgonine Sept. 16 in Lberty, and heroin Sept. 19 in Warren.

Other stats indicate that Trumbull County had just one fentanyl overdose death in 2014 but had registered seven so far in 2015.

The total for overdose deaths for Trumbull County through Oct. 6 is 66, the statistics reveal. The previous high was 64 in 2007. There were 54 in 2014.

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