Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Drug Deaths Surge In Manatee County

Nov 5, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON – With drug overdoses on the rise, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan today called on congressional leaders to pass his bill punishing China for failing to curb the flow of deadly opioids into the United States. 

Buchanan urged the chairmen of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees to include his bill in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

In a letter to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Buchanan said the drug epidemic is a matter of national security. Buchanan’s Fentanyl Sanctions Act would impose economic penalties on China-based drug manufacturers that knowingly send synthetic opioids to drug traffickers and criminal operations.

Drug deaths nationwide involving fentanyl or other synthetic opioids skyrocketed by more than 1000 percent in the past six years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “These drugs are devastating American families,” Buchanan said. “China is responsible for failing to take action against the manufacturers in their country.”

In Manatee County, there have been 601 overdoses and 61 deaths through October of this year — more than twice as many deaths as reported during the same period last year, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's office. In Sarasota County, there have been 78 overdoses and ten deaths through October —  a 20 percent increase in overdoses over the number during the same period last year, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office.

“This is a frightening development considering that just a few years ago the number of overdoses was declining,” Buchanan said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the cause of an increasing number of overdose deaths in the United States. They accounted for 30 percent of total overdose deaths in 2016 and nearly 42 percent in 2017.

The Congressman noted that fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin, but 50 times more powerful. These drugs are often manufactured in foreign countries and mailed into the United States. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of pure fentanyl seized by U.S. officials in 2017 arrived from China.

“For too long, fentanyl and other opioids have continued to wreak havoc on communities in Florida and across the country,” Buchanan said. “We need to hold Beijing accountable for any lack of progress controlling the fentanyl freely flowing out of their country.”

Both the House and Senate have passed separate versions of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and now a conference committee is responsible for drafting a final compromise bill, which must be passed by both chambers again before being signed into law. 

Buchanan introduced the Fentanyl Sanctions Act in April with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan group that includes Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

Congressman Buchanan has been an active leader in addressing the opioid crisis in Florida. Two Buchanan-backed bills were signed into law last year, the INTERDICT Act to help stem the flow of illicit opioids and the STOP Act to toughen screening of overseas shipments of deadly synthetic drugs coming into the United States. In 2017, Buchanan was successful in securing millions of dollars in funding for our area of Southwest Florida to confront the opioid epidemic.

He has consistently pushed to raise awareness of the Suncoast’s drug problems including chairing a hearing examining the impact of addiction on families and children. Buchanan also hosted a roundtable in Bradenton with local police officers, medical professionals, and stakeholders and led a meeting of the bipartisan 29-member Florida congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. where members heard testimony from anti-drug experts.

In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration adopted Buchanan’s proposal to make it more difficult for abusers to obtain certain highly addictive narcotics.

Letter Text Below: 

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Chairman Smith,

As you work to finalize a conference agreement for the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act,  I am urging you to include my legislation to help combat the flow of deadly, synthetic opioids being trafficked into the United States. The drug epidemic is a matter of national security.

For too long, fentanyl and other opioids have continued to wreak havoc on communities in Florida and across the country. As you know, fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin but 50 times more powerful. These drugs are often manufactured in foreign countries and mailed into the United States. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of pure fentanyl seized by U.S. officials in 2017 arrived from China.

That’s why I teamed up with Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) to introduce the Fentanyl Sanctions Act (HR 2226). Specifically, the bill would impose sanctions on China-based drug manufacturers that knowingly send synthetic opioids to drug traffickers and other criminal operations. This bipartisan legislation would also authorize $600 million in funding for law enforcement to combat the trafficking of opioids across the globe.

As shocking as it may sound, the death rate from synthetic opioids like fentanyl has skyrocketed by 1,000 percent in six years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my own backyard of Manatee County, the sheriff's office has reported 601 overdoses and 61 deaths through October of this year — more than twice as many deaths as this time last year. 

And while I welcome China’s announcement that it will ban all forms of fentanyl, we must ensure that their words are followed through with meaningful action. One disturbing report details that between 2015 and 2016, 1,072 shipments of fentanyl were seized by American officials before it could enter the U.S. Meanwhile, China only had four instances of seizing the substance before it could be exported.

We need to hold Beijing accountable for any lack of progress controlling the fentanyl freely flowing out of their country.

Again, I respectfully request that you include my provision to crack down on the dangerous and illicit fentanyl pouring into our country and thank you for your prompt attention to this critically important matter.

Sincerely, 

Vern Buchanan

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