WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), today held a hearing examining fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
While fentanyl is a tightly controlled prescription medicine used to treat extreme pain, it is also easy and cheap to illicitly manufacture, making it easy to find on the streets and the Internet.
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) reiterated how easy it is to obtain illicit fentanyl, saying, “I went online and looked at how to order fentanyl online just while we’re sitting here and there are a lot of opportunities.”
Mr. William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, said we are moving “in a positive direction” when it comes to working with other nations involved in the production and trafficking of fentanyl. “We have a dialogue, we are talking to one another,” Mr. Brownfield added.
“The threat posed by heroin has continued to grow dramatically over the past several years – between 2007 and 2015, deaths involving heroin have risen 441 percent, from 2,402 to 12,990, and since 2013, available public health data indicate fentanyl-laced heroin has been increasingly involved in these deaths,” said Kemp Chester, Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “In 2015, 9,580 drug overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids other than methadone (a statistical category that is dominated by fentanyl), up from 3,105 deaths in 2013, a 209 percent increase.”
“Those suffering from an overdose involving fentanyl may require both higher doses and multiple administrations of naloxone to reverse the overdose and to become stabilized,” explained Chairman Murphy. “Even the police and first responders are at risk from inadvertently touching or inhaling fentanyl powder at a crime scene or helping an overdose victim.”
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) reiterated the concern about first responders arriving to a scene with fentanyl, highlighting her experience as U.S. Attorney in Southern District of Indiana from 2001-2007, saying, that there has not been much discussion about how dangerous contact with fentanyl can be. Mr. Matthew Allen, Assistant Director, Homeland Security Investigative Programs, Homeland Security Investigations, US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke to current training exercises their agents have taken part in to physically prepare for fentanyl being on scene.
Full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) highlighted recent action at the United Nations, supported by China, which would dramatically limit the supply of two precursors to fentanyl from being shipped. This process would provide national authorities of the country receiving the shipment with basic information about the shipment – when it will arrive, how much is being shipped, the purpose of the shipment, etc. “This is a way to shutdown the diversion of legal and illicitly produced fentanyl,” explained Mr. Brownfield. Chairman Walden praised this effort, saying similar efforts helped dramatically reduce problems with the supply of methamphetamine precursor ingredients in Oregon and other states.
For more information on today’s hearing, including a background memo, witness testimony, and archived webcast, click HERE.