WASHINGTON – Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the U.S. government needs to “push the drug companies to come up with non-addictive alternatives” to pain medications.
“It’s crazy that we’re using opioids for things like extracting a wisdom tooth. It just doesn’t make any sense. And then the distribution network, which is the focus of that story, is obviously a huge part of it. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Act – that, again, I encourage members to co-sponsor and let’s get the darn thing passed – requires states to have a prescription drug monitoring program that holds the pharmacies and the doctors responsible on the prescription side to stop the overprescribing,” Portman said during a Washington Post Live discussion on “Addiction in America: A Nation Responds.”
“It also requires states to get involved with the interstate compact so that you have interoperability. In Ohio, people will get the prescription in Ohio. Then they go to West Virginia or Kentucky or Michigan or Indiana or Kentucky, somewhere else, to get another prescription filled. We’ve got to stop that and then, obviously, on the treatment and recovery side, Narcan and the enforcement side,” he added.
Portman and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) touted the benefits of the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act of 2017, which aims to prevent illegal drugs from being shipped into the country. If passed and signed into law, the STOP Act would “amend the Tariff Act of 1930 to make the Postmaster General the importer of record for non-letter class mail and to require the provision of advance electronic information about shipments of non-letter class mail to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
Hassan said the STOP Act would help U.S. law enforcement officials “go after” fentanyl producers and dealers.
“In New Hampshire, 70 percent or so of our overdose deaths are a result of fentanyl overdoses, and so it is 50 times more powerful than heroin. We’ve also had 10 deaths from carfentanil, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and was really intended only to tranquilize large elephants. So, these drugs are synthetic. The profit margins, because they’re easy to make, you don’t have to grow a plant as a precursor here, are huge, and they are flooding particularly rural areas of our country,” the senator said.
“The last thing we should be doing is destabilizing and repealing our healthcare in this country, in terms of making sure that there is treatment accessible to people who need it,” she added. “So, in this mix, while we talk about the STOP Act, which is critically important to getting data, so that we can go after these fentanyl producers and dealers, we can’t ignore the fact that an integrated healthcare system that treats behavioral health and substance use disorder is an absolutely essential piece of this.”
Portman said more people are dying in Ohio from fentanyl than heroin.
“Fentanyl is a synthetic form of opioids. It’s coming in from China mostly, coming in by the U.S. mail – that’s an outrage. We’ve got to deal with that and unbelievably the STOP Act, which Maggie and I have worked on for about a year now, has been stuck in Congress and that should pass,” he said.
Portman was asked why he thinks it has been difficult for Congress to change laws to deal with the addiction crisis in America. He referred to the STOP Act as a “no brainer” for lawmakers.
“Honestly, I can tell you the reasons but it’s a mystery to me, because here’s what’s going on, and this is a shock when people find out: Fentanyl, which is, again, killing more people in our states that heroin now, is coming in through the U.S. mail. This is not coming over land from Mexico like heroin, and it’s not even coming from a country next to us, it is coming mostly from China,” he said. “And they choose the U.S. mail because the U.S. mail system does not require that packages have information on it for law enforcement to be able to stop this poison.”
“If you’re FedEx, UPS, DHL, you’ve got to provide advanced data that says this is where it’s from, this is what’s in it, this is where it’s going. Law enforcement – and I’ve been to the DHL screening and the UPS screening; I’ve seen them do it – they go in there with Customs and Border Protection people and DEA, and DEA is strongly supportive of our efforts, by the way, and they’re able to identify these packages,” the Ohio Republican added.
Portman said law enforcement officials need every possible tool to identify illegal drugs in packages and take the appropriate action.
“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack if they don’t have that information and, as a result, you can get a package the size of that clock that can have 100,000 doses in it. Three flakes of this stuff can kill you. This is incredibly powerful, incredibly cheap and, at a minimum, we ought to be giving our law enforcement officials the ability to find these packages and stop them,” he said.
“Again, that’s not the only solution here, because that’ll increase the cost, and get a little bit less on the street, but we still have to deal with the broader issue, but that is a no-brainer to me.”