Rooney, Donovan Reintroduce Legislation to Combat Fentanyl Crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Continuing their work to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic, Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL-17) and Congressman Dan Donovan (R-NY-11) today reintroduced the Comprehensive Fentanyl Control Act. The legislation focuses on saving lives by updating federal criminal law to reflect the potency of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and to stop the sale of pill presses purchased online by criminals who use them to mass produce counterfeit painkillers.
Illicit fentanyl can be deadly in doses as small as two milligrams, and according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), traffickers are lacing heroin and other substances with small traces of illicit fentanyl to boost the drugs’ potency and their own profits, and to deadly effect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the increase in opioid overdose deaths across the country is directly attributable to the rise in the manufacturing and distribution of illicit fentanyl coming from China, which is shipped to Mexico and trafficked across the U.S. border. The overwhelming amount of overdoses can also be blamed on the availability of pill presses, which can be purchased online and are now being used by criminals inside the U.S. to create counterfeit painkillers that contain lethal doses of fentanyl.
“Every time I am home, I hear from local enforcement officials, health care providers and veterans service officers who all consistently tell me that opioid abuse, and fentanyl specifically, is one of most difficult public health and safety issues in our communities” Congressman Rooney said. “This bill will give the DEA the ability to adapt and quickly respond to Chinese manufacturers of illicit fentanyl, who change the chemical composition of the drug to deliberately get around outdated and ineffective U.S. trafficking laws. This drug is too deadly to wait – we need to act quickly and not let the slog of bureaucracy keep us from saving lives.”
Over the last year, 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 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.
Congressman Donovan said, “As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the devastation caused by drug addiction. While our nation works to address the opioid abuse epidemic, it’s critical that we distinguish between those struggling with addiction and the traffickers who enable them. Drug traffickers are intentionally lacing their products with synthetic opioids like fentanyl -- knowing that their actions lead to overdoses and death. 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.”
Donovan concluded, “There isn’t a community that hasn’t been touched by the opioid abuse epidemic, and we need to do everything we can to stop fentanyl from reaching our communities. This commonsense legislation will give law enforcement agents the tools they need to meet the fentanyl threat, which will save countless lives.”
The CDC estimated that more than 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2015 alone. Approximately two-thirds of these fatalities were from opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin.
This bill was originally introduced during the 114th Congress. Last 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 in September.