Donovan, Rooney Unveil Legislation to Combat Fentanyl Crisis
Staten Island, NY—October 11, 2016….Congressman Dan Donovan (NY-11) today unveiled the Comprehensive Fentanyl Control Act, sponsored in partnership with Congressman Tom Rooney (FL-17), in response to a national surge in overdose deaths caused by the substance. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Drug traffickers are intentionally lacing their products with fentanyl, which has a lethal dosage of just two milligrams. The Drug Enforcement Agency has seen a massive spike in fentanyl-laced substances, and to deadly effect: the Centers for Disease Control reported a 79-percent spike in synthetic opioid deaths largely attributable to illicit fentanyls. Traffickers lace their heroin with fentanyl to boost its potency. They also use “pill presses” to create counterfeit prescription painkillers containing fentanyl for which even a small dosage error could kill.
The Donovan/Rooney bill attacks two components of the fentanyl crisis: the criminal code’s outdated fentanyl provisions and the pill presses used to counterfeit painkillers.
Congressman Donovan, a former prosecutor, said, “The national conversation on substance abuse has focused intensely on addiction as a mental health crisis for which treatment is preferable to prison, and that’s a good thing. But we can’t lose sight of the criminal justice system’s role in addressing the drug epidemic. Drug traffickers aren't just giving addicts enough of the proverbial rope to hang themselves – traffickers are intentionally lacing their products with synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Society can't cure this dark branch of the drug problem with medically-assisted treatment and therapy; only law enforcement agents and judges can meet the threat.”
Over the past three months, Donovan and Rooney have met with national law enforcement agencies to gather input and feedback in drafting the legislation. The bill would add up to five years to the sentence of a trafficker who cuts any controlled substance with fentanyl. It would also reduce from 400 grams (200,000 lethal doses) to 20 grams (10,000 lethal doses) the minimum fentanyl possession threshold to trigger mandatory minimum sentences.
Further, existing federal law prohibits unauthorized users from possessing pill presses, but that hasn’t deterred their proliferation. A simple online auction site search yields hundreds of options for machines capable of producing thousands of pills per hour. Many of the small machines are imported from China, which means sellers must ship the presses through the mail. This bill would make it illegal to mail pill presses to unauthorized users, which should compel legitimate online auctioneers to remove the product from their sites.
“Florida is among the eight states with the highest fentanyl-related deaths in the country,” Congressman Rooney said. “My concern is that without action these statistics are only going to get worse. This bill is an important first step in updating our laws to prevent traffickers from lacing other drugs with fentanyl. It is our responsibility to get this incredibly dangerous synthetic drug off the streets and to stop young lives from being cut too short.”
Donovan concluded, “It’s important to distinguish between those struggling with addiction and the traffickers who enable them. The former group requires intensive treatment and years of hard work to stay clean. The latter group must answer for the deaths they’ve caused.”
Today’s proposal is the latest step to combat the nationwide drug addiction epidemic. This year, Donovan and Rooney co-sponsored and helped pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, legislation that authorizes grants for local addiction treatment, education, and enforcement programs. Funding for the programs was included in the budget resolution that passed Congress and was signed into law by the President in September.