Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017 (H.R. 2851).
Chairman Goodlatte: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a component of the Department of Health and Human Services, about 19,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2001. That is approximately 52 a day. However, the frightening reality is that figure skyrocketed to over 52,000 deaths in 2015, or about 144 people per day, and preliminary data indicates at least 59,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2016. Put another way, that is a more than 13 percent increase in overdose deaths in one year. Nearly one fifth of the deaths in 2015 resulted from an overdose of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
H.R. 2851 is designed to stop this trend. The dangerous synthetic drugs that are the focus of this bill have no legitimate industrial or medical use, and the terrifying numbers I just mentioned show that their abuse constitutes an ongoing public health and safety epidemic in the United States.
Most of these synthetic substances properly belong in Schedule I with the most dangerous drugs. However, the Controlled Substances Act was not designed to tackle the flood of over 400 known synthetic analogues with which we are presently confronted. To make matters worse, there are thousands of variations that criminals can make in their foreign laboratories, simply by altering a single molecule in the substance. Over the past several years, members of Congress and this Committee have debated whether to wait roughly three years for the executive branch to control a substance, or for us to act and legislatively place a laundry list of substances in Schedule I. But either way, there are no good options in current law for rapid action to protect the American people.
However, what is certain is we can no longer afford to wait three years for a substance to be controlled. Americans are overdosing and dying in record numbers. Nor can we depend on the legislative process to address this issue. As with so many other things, the criminals are much more nimble than law enforcement.
H.R. 2851, which is the subject of years of work, will ensure that we are no longer limited by only two bad options for combating dangerous synthetics. This legislation provides a rigorous and timely process to get these drugs out of the hands of criminals, who exploit human misery for profit, and put them into the hands of qualified researchers.
This bill’s bipartisan and bicameral approach is highlighted in its reasonable and balanced methods toward stemming the manufacture and importation of dangerous drugs while ensuring synthetic drugs can be researched by qualified individuals and institutions.
Nearly all of these synthetic substances are made in China and Mexico for distribution in the U.S. Even though most of these drugs have the properties of the most potent drugs in Schedules I and II, this bill sets the equivalent of Schedule III penalties for trafficking and distribution. This means that these substances are generally not subject to mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking and distribution. The bill also does not criminalize simple possession of the substances.
There must always be a multi-pronged approach to combating drug abuse, with enforcement, treatment, and education being some of the key components. Last year, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act on a nearly unanimous basis. Today, before this committee, there is an opportunity to apply existing laws to a class of drugs which have evaded law enforcement and wreaked untold havoc on our constituents, due to the resourcefulness of criminals who exploit a legal loophole, who manufacture, import, and traffic these deadly drugs solely for profit, to prey upon human misery. This loophole must be closed.
Supporters of this legislation include the National Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the National Kratom Coalition. Without objection, letters of support from these organizations will be made a part of the record.
I thank Mr. Katko and Ms. Rice, both of New York, for their work on this bipartisan, bicameral legislation, and I urge my colleagues to support it.