Hoeven Working to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Senator Outlines Illegal Synthetic Drug Safety Act, CARA Legislation at ND Opioid Symposium

FARGO, N.D. – At the North Dakota Opioid Symposium in Fargo today, Senator John Hoeven outlined bipartisan legislation he authored and is sponsoring with Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) to keep harmful and addictive synthetic drugs from being sold in the United States. The Illegal Synthetic Drug Safety Act of 2016 closes a loophole in current law that enables companies to circumvent the law and sell synthetic variations of drugs, like the powerful drug fentanyl, by labeling the products as “not for human consumption.”

The Hoeven legislation has been endorsed by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. The senator stressed that this measure is part of a wide range of efforts to prevent and treat overdose and addiction, both by addressing the supply of the most dangerous substances and by ensuring adequate treatment and emergency resources are available to help those struggling with addiction.

“North Dakota families and communities are being hit hard by the growing drug epidemic,” said Hoeven. “This legislation will help prevent the sale of some synthetic opioid drugs on the street and over the internet and helps our law enforcement keep these drugs out of our communities. This is part of our comprehensive efforts to ensure our state’s treatment providers and law enforcement officials have the tools they need as they work every day to prevent and treat addiction and help keep our communities safe.”

Laboratories, many of which are found in China, alter the molecular structure of fentanyl and other controlled drugs to make substances that are technically different, but with the same dangerous risks as the original drug. These chemically altered substances are known as analogues. Under the current law, the Analogue Enforcement Act, analogues of controlled substances that are “intended for human consumption” are to be considered Schedule I substances. Companies that produce analogue substances are circumventing the law by labeling their products as “not for human consumption,” even though the drugs are purchased for that exact purpose.

For example, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is medically used as a pain killer. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. While fentanyl is a controlled substance, laboratories are altering its molecular structure to make variations of the drug that are technically different, but just as dangerous. Companies are then able to sell the variations, or analogues, under a “not for human consumption” label.

The Illegal Synthetic Drug Safety Act of 2016 closes that loophole and removes the “intended for human consumption” language from the Analogue Enforcement Act, which classifies analogues of controlled substances as Schedule I substances. Chemical substances used for legitimate commercial purposes and regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act are exempted from the classification.

In addition, Hoeven supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July. The bipartisan legislation will help combat the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic by expanding prevention efforts, supporting law enforcement, improving treatment of overdoses and enhancing access to treatment for drug addiction.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven also works to support local law enforcement’s efforts to protect communities and prevent crime. The senator secured funding in the Senate’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill for programs that help reduce recidivism and enhance coordination among various levels of law enforcement. These include the federal Drug Court and Veteran Treatment Court programs. Further, Hoeven has supported expanded funding in the FY2017 Health and Human Services appropriations bill for opioid abuse prevention programs.