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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Tom Cotton (left) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer hold a news conference Thursday in Washington on their bill aimed against fentanyl. ( Frank E. Lockwood)

WASHINGTON -- Setting their partisan differences momentarily aside, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., promised Thursday that they'll work together to fight the flow of synthetic opioids into the United States.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, they called for passage of the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, which would punish Chinese drug manufacturers and others when they knowingly supply fentanyl to drug traffickers.

The legislation, which was filed Thursday, is the "first ever legislation to give broad and powerful sanction tools to the administration to target illicit fentanyl producers in China, Mexico and throughout the world," Schumer said.

The announcement comes days after China said that it would treat all "fentanyl-related substances" as controlled narcotics, effective May 1.

Several of the measure's initial supporters -- Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio -- joined Schumer and Cotton for the announcement.

"We're an unusual crew. Some might call us a motley crew who may not agree on a lot here in the United States Senate, but we do agree on one very important thing: combating the opioid epidemic," Schumer said. "When we can work together in a bipartisan fashion, we should. And when you see this group assembled, you know we're right."

Deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses have soared in recent years. Between 1999 and 2006, they roughly doubled, from 16,849 to 34,425. They've risen every year since then. In 2017, overdoses were blamed for the deaths of 70,237 people in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drugs claimed more lives that year than automobile accidents, homicides or suicides.

Opioids were a factor in 47,600 (67.8 percent) of those fatalities. Overall, 28,466 overdose deaths (40.5 percent) were linked to synthetic opioids other than methadone, the CDC reported.

Fentanyl is cheap and far stronger than many other drugs -- perhaps 100 times more potent than morphine, Cotton and others have said. It is often mixed in with other drugs, making them more potent and more deadly.

"Almost all of that fentanyl comes from Chinese super labs that is smuggled through Mexican cartels or even through our own postal system. China has long known this, and they've done no actions to stop it, and it's time to crack down," Cotton said.

The legislation would "direct the president to publicly identify foreign traffickers of opioids on an annual basis and use a number of precision economic and financial sanctions and policy tools to cripple their operations," according to a summary of the proposal.

Cotton expressed little confidence that China would voluntarily curb the production of illicit fentanyl.

"Color me skeptical that the Chinese government will uphold its end of its bargain, much like they don't uphold their end of almost any other bargain they strike with the United States or the civilized world," he said.

Last year, the lawmaker from Dardanelle introduced legislation that would have stiffened penalties for fentanyl trafficking.

At the time, he said fentanyl was "as much a weapon of mass destruction as it is a drug." A dose of fentanyl the size of a grain of sand can be deadly, he warned.

The spike in synthetic opioid-related deaths other than methadone has been dramatic, from 3,105 in 2013 and 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015 and 19,413 in 2016.

In May 2016, a group of 11 experts wrote to officials in President Barack Obama's administration urging them to designate the fentanyl crisis as a "public health emergency," The Washington Post reported last month. Experts later alleged that the Obama administration "did not take extraordinary measures to confront an extraordinary crisis," the paper said.

In October 2017, the Trump administration designated the opioid crisis as a "public health emergency."

Asked Thursday whether the government had dropped the ball by not acting more quickly, Schumer said, "I think not enough was done early on."

The slow response isn't unprecedented, he suggested.

"I've been trying to fight the drug scourge in America for a long time. Crystal meth took a while. Crack cocaine took awhile. And this took too long. Too long. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be redoubling our efforts now," he said.

Cotton said lawmakers may have realized fentanyl was a crisis before the people "who work full time in the government and live in Washington, D.C. "

"Congress has been leading on this, and I'm pleased that it's been a bipartisan effort," he said.

A Section on 04/05/2019

Print Headline: 'Unusual crew' including U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, Dems' Senate leader team on effort to halt foreign flow of opioids


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Archived Comments

  • 23cal
    April 5, 2019 at 6:34 a.m.

    But, but, but......I heard it was "People kill people, not "guns kill people". Now it seems it is "People no longer kill people, opioids kill people."
    What happened to "I left an opioid---er, GUN--on my porch all night long and it didn't kill anybody."
    The right wing sure does use different "logic" when deciding which inanimate object to defend or attack.

  • Skeptic1
    April 5, 2019 at 9 a.m.

    And guess how these drugs are coming into the country in bulk...the southern border. 23cal...your idiotic statement just reinforces that you, like your basement buddy Rbear, cannot see beyond your pathological hatred of Trump and anything you perceive as conservative. Are you seriously alleging there is no opioid crisis?

    April 5, 2019 at 9:36 a.m.

    They're equating the logic of personal responsibility for gun ownership with responsible prescription consumption. There are hundreds of thousands of responsible gun owners just as there are hundreds of thousands of responsible prescription drug consumers, therefore should we really be legislating against the product when it's a few bad apples that are misusing them. It's a rhetorical reach but in no universe is it denying an opioid crisis. If that's how you read it you should get your reading comprehension glasses checked.

  • 23cal
    April 5, 2019 at 9:38 a.m.

    About "Are you seriously alleging there is no opioid crisis?" Your reading comprehension is abysmal. I did not allege that, only pointed out the hypocrisy and inconsistency of conservative excuse-making.
    About "And guess how these drugs are coming into the country in bulk...the southern border."
    Is that a fact? Two things:
    1. I very seriously doubt China is sending opioids across our southern border. However, I can be convinced by evidence, so please feel free to supply some......for a change.
    2. Most of the opioids coming across the southern border are coming through ports of entry, which is one of the places where Democrats want to beef up border security.

  • MFWARD1918
    April 5, 2019 at 9:41 a.m.

    After that amazing display of cooperation, why not take on Big Pharma and prescription drug pricing. This problem does not yet have the headline potential of illegal drugs, but it certainly affects more people and if not changed will certainly kill many people. Politicians up for reelection will be asked about this issue and how much money they have accepted from Big Pharma. No one should die because they cannot afford their prescription.

  • mrcharles
    April 5, 2019 at 9:50 a.m.

    Falling off my chair by the statements of the commie TC. Why cant the free market and mandates by gawd be allowed to play out ? Wanting the government to step in is like that there health care issues. Really is either important enough to human beings and their health, life , liberty and pursuit of happiness to have a government who cant do anything right [ seems we won 2 world wars] interfere with the liberties of mericans. I hate red lights, yellow lines on highways and other interference with my free will.

    Sadly even things like TC support either commie [ older pronouncement designed to scare children or gop adults] or the nasty acts of apostles like socialism that is the new scare phrase used to lie and scare children and gop adults.

    Cant we all use mass quantities of legal alcohol to create a crises in merica? Why do we need to add another crises? Like climate change just cause science says there is one doesnt mean in our guts we cant think different. After all gravity is just a theory.

  • Popsmith
    April 5, 2019 at 9:51 a.m.

    We need stronger penalties for dope dealers. Penalities like being shot on sight.
    And we won't talk about the poor weak souls who have to have their candy.

  • LRCrookAtty
    April 5, 2019 at 10:16 a.m.

    Like I have said many times on these posts, I am Libertarian (mostly). I agree with the left on this issue. It is NOT the legal prescriptions that are causing addiction. These bills the idiot republicans are passing does not stop or even curb addiction. The war on drugs is a failure and should have never been implemented. This is the same thing as the idiot democrats with their entitlements. They hurt the majority, because the middle income earners make too much to get help, but not enough to pay for the help given to the lowest income earners. Get government out and people will be helped.

  • LRCrookAtty
    April 5, 2019 at 10:22 a.m.

    Fentanyl is an opioid and the majority of the illegal Fentanyl on the streets is coming across the southern border. As well as, heroin is an opioid and the majority of illegal heroin is coming across the southern border. Actually, "white china" heroin came for the far east and "black tar" (the cheap stuff) came from Mexico and South America, however, recently the southern border folks learned to make "white china" and now it is the prevalent drug of heroin and the price has been driven down.

    These opioids have been a problem for decades, however, only in the lower economic communities of brown, black and white. Now, with the upper economic communities losing their children to this disease it is all of a sudden an "epidemic."

  • GeneralMac
    April 5, 2019 at 11:09 a.m.

    MRCOWARD, in his usual insane rant, misses the mark......AGAIN.

    (1ST PARAGRAPH....last sentence)......"red lights"....."yellow lines" ...are not there to impede your " free will" but are there so idiots like you learn YOUR rights end where the other person's rights begin.

    Now, keep yor 1PM appointment with your psychiatrist daughter !