Rep. Donovan bill fights scourge of deadly fentanyl
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin, but drug users are unknowingly taking it and dying of overdoses, something Rep. Daniel Donovan hopes to curb with the introduction of a new bill.
Last month, the district attorney announced that nine people died in 10 days from suspected overdoses.
Dealers sell fentanyl-laced heroin to their clients, who, unfamiliar with its potency, overdose and die. In fact, an overdose death can sometimes be good for a dealer's business, as addicts looking for an even higher high will seek out fentanyl-laced heroin.
It's a "sinister advertisement," Donovan said of the OD deaths during a press conference Tuesday morning in his New Dorp Lane district office.
Blackmarket versions of fentanyl and an even more powerful painkiller -- carfentanyl -- are being synthetically made and said to be primarily produced in China.
Some of the illegal drugs are so powerful that a dose the size of a grain of salt can be lethal.
Fentanyl does have a legitimate, medical use as a painkiller, but is used only in very severe cases, primarily late-stage cancer patients.
Donovan noted that the presence of fentanyl in Drug Enforcement Administration-tested seized drugs increased by 65 percent from 2014 to 2015 and by 800 percent since 2006.
Donovan's bill, which he introduced before Congress left Washington, D.C., for its pre-election break, is co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas Rooney (D-FL).
While it's already illegal to possess pill presses, the bill makes it illegal to mail presses to unauthorized users.
Putting on his former district attorney hat, Donovan's bill makes punishments harsher and easier to attain.
"My bill would bring punishment in line with the severity of the offense," he said.
It would add up to five years to the sentence of a trafficker who laces other opioids with fentanyl and it reduces the threshold that must be met for mandatory minimum sentencing. Twenty grams of fentanyl would be the minimum possession threshold to trigger mandatory minimum sentences, down from the current 400 grams.
"Society can't cure this dark branch of the drug problem with medically assisted treatment and therapy," Donovan said. "Only law enforcement agents and judges can meet that threat."
Fentanyl is currently on schedule II of controlled substances, but once its chemical makeup is altered, as happens often with versions made on the black market, it's no longer on the schedule. It takes 30 days for the new version of the drug to get on the schedule.
To make prosecution easier and faster, Donovan's bill authorizes the DEA to create an emergency, temporary schedule for new synthetic opioids created when fentanyl is chemically altered.
CRITICISM FROM OPPONENT
Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) is running for re-election against Democratic challenger Richard Reichard, who attacked the congressman Tuesday, accusing him of dropping the bill around election time for political reasons.
He met with officials from the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, NYPD, U.S. Postal Inspectors and the city's special narcotics prosecutor earlier Tuesday morning and had met with them previously when crafting the bill, the Comprehensive Fentanyl Control Act.
Drug traffickers use pill presses purchased online to produce "phony pills" laced with fentanyl and mimicking name-brand painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, Donovan noted.
Even a small amount of fentanyl can cause a deadly overdose and addicts are buying pills without knowing what's in them.
"He waited until the last day before the six-week election break to introduce the legislation, so he could to send press releases and pretend he's doing something," Reichard said in a statement mailed to press shortly before Donovan's press conference. "It appears the timing has more to do with the election than with saving lives."
Asked at the press conference about the criticism, Donovan said, "I think that my opponent doesn't realize how long it takes to put a piece of legislation together because he's not a legislator, and if he would rather wait until more people die before this is proposed, I think that's pretty disingenuous. As soon as this piece of legislation was ready, it was dropped."
Reichard also criticized Donovan for saying he would sponsor a federal version of the state's I-STOP drug database but not doing so.
Last December, Donovan asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include New York in InterConnect, connecting the state with 37 other to share prescription drug information and prevent doctor-shopping and abuse.
A Donovan spokesperson pointed out that a federal I-STOP is the same concept as InterConnect and thus a duplicative program isn't necessary.
"Richard Richard's claim to fame is being the former head of a political club, so it's understandable why he has zero concept about how to govern and develop policy," Donovan campaign spokesperson Jessica Proud said in a statement. "For more than a decade as district attorney and now as congressman, Dan Donovan has been a leader in the fight against drugs. For months he has been working with the DEA and other stakeholders to develop real and lasting solutions that will save lives, and shame on Mr. Reichard for trying to politicize that."