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Congress must not fail US again; act on fentanyl bills

Monday, March 6, 2017

Recent headline news

hammers home the frightening and seemingly endless surge in drug- overdose deaths driven by heroin, fentanyl and other toxic opioids.

Late last week, 23 individuals in Trumbull County had to be revived with the opiate-reversal drug naloxone over the span of 48 hours to prevent their possible deaths. In Mahoning County, 12 people died this January of overdoses, which represents a 300 percent increase over January 2016 levels.

Elsewhere in Ohio, escalating overdose emergency calls and deaths have led officials in Washington Court House, population 14,110, to charge all people revived with naloxone with inducing panic – a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.

Statewide, health officials reported about 3,000 overdose deaths in 2016 – or about eight each day. One of nine overdose deaths nationwide now takes place in Ohio.

And just last month, a report from the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission tagged the Buckeye State as the nation’s No. 1 state for use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, often laced into drug dealers’ heroin supplies.

That’s particularly troubling because fentanyl has been identified as the primary culprit behind the latest spike in the epidemic of drug-overdose deaths nationwide. Fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a man-made opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

It’s therefore not unreasonable to believe that choking off the supply of fentanyl could go far toward lessening its alarming death toll.


It’s that line of thinking that has moved U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, to take action on a plan with potentially positive national ramifications.

Last week, Ryan announced that he and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., are introducing the Stop Trafficking in Fentanyl Act of 2017 in the House of Representatives. The bipartisan bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to ensure the law more appropriately reflects the high-octane potency of today’s illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Common sense dictates the necessity to toughen up and clean up that act by reducing the amount of fentanyl needed to trigger taut federal penalties.

The bill would lower the threshold that invokes those tough punishments from 400 grams of the drug to only 20 grams. In so doing, the law would better reflect the extreme strength of the drug, which can be fatal in doses as small as 0.25 of

1 gram. The law also could compel some fentanyl dealers, particularly lower-level street peddlers, to think twice about trafficking in the powerful painkiller and life killer.

Clearly there’s no time to waste. New evidence pours in almost daily on the tightening grip fentanyl is taking on a larger and larger group of victims.

According to Ryan and Rooney, addiction costs the United States $700 billion annually. In 2015, 52,000 deaths in the United States were caused by overdoses, 33,000 of which can be directly attributed to opioids. Experts target fentanyl, used alone or in a mix with heroin and cocaine, as the prime engine powering today’s skyrocketing rise in overdose deaths.

Despite such growing and compelling evidence, sadly Congress has shown little compassion or compunction to deal meaningfully with fentanyl. As one case in point, Ryan and Rooney introduced their same legislation in 2015 only to have it languish amid a pile of missed opportunities in a Congress that rightly earned its “do nothing” moniker.


While representatives and senators are at it, they should also give priority attention to the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention Act, introduced last month by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati. It is designed to help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers. It would require shipments from foreign countries through our postal system to provide electronic advance data – such as who and where it is coming from, whom it’s going to, where it is going, and what’s in it – before they could enter the United States. It, too, was introduced last session but went virtually nowhere.

Together, the bills sponsored by Ryan and Portman would provide a meaningful one-two punch against fentanyl, the star rascal in the current drug scourge. Responsible legislators of all political stripes should act post haste to adopt them. Time has run out for additional senseless and death-inviting delays.