The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report containing concerning news for our country and state. For the first time since the end of World War I, the average American’s life expectancy decreased over a multi-year period. The primary drivers for this decrease? Suicide and drug overdose.
The synthetic drug Fentanyl accounted for nearly half of the 72,000 drug overdoses in 2017, up from only six percent in 2012. Fentanyl is so potent that even a trace amount — equivalent to a few specks of salt — combined with heroin can prove deadly. Unlike other opioid-related deaths that tend to be individually isolated, Fentanyl-related deaths can come in batches, devastating entire communities over the course of hours.
California hasn’t been spared the horrors associated with this deadly substance. According to the California Department of Public Health, Fentanyl-related deaths in the state were up 80 percent from 2016 to 2017, and Fentanyl continues to increase as a percentage of all opioid-related deaths in California.
Why has Fentanyl become so deadly in a relatively short amount of time? One reason is that Fentanyl, an illegal drug often manufactured in China, has escaped Food and Drug Administration regulations combating prescription drug abuse. Fentanyl can enter undetected via both our Southern and Northern borders simply by mailing a package through the U.S. Postal Service. Drug cartels have found yet another way to wreak havoc on our communities. We must stop it.
Fortunately Congress recently passed, and President Trump signed, the bipartisan Support for Patients and Communities Act, which contained new measures to combat the opioid crisis. Further, after the G20 Summit in Argentina, Chinese President Jinping agreed to classify Fentanyl as a controlled substance, and those who sell it illegally will be subject to maximum penalties under Chinese law. I hope these actions curtail the bad actors shipping this deadly drug into our communities.
In California, the Assembly passed and Governor Brown recently signed new bipartisan measures to improve the distribution of naloxone — a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose — and require all prescriptions be submitted electronically, further preventing high-risk patients of “doctor shopping.” These are good steps to fight this epidemic and I was proud to support them.
But we can and must do more. Congress should pass the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act, which gives law enforcement the flexibility to combat the crisis by allowing the Drug Enforcement Agency to quickly classify new strands of Fentanyl as Schedule I controlled substances. The SOFA Act is supported by all 50 U.S. state attorneys general, but has yet to be passed by Congress.
The CDC report confirms what many families already know: We are losing too many Californians and Americans before it’s their time. Reversing these trends requires vigilance to rid our communities of drugs like Fentanyl. Let’s continue to build on recent progress and give law enforcement, medical professionals, and treatment centers the support and resources they need to save lives.