Senator tackles opioid abuse

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Portman discusses STOP Act and Trump

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, spoke with reporters in a conference call Tuesday afternoon, ahead of President Donald Trump’s address of a joint session of Congress.

Portman, who had spent the previous week home in Ohio discussing drug addiction and job issues across the state, said that he had the opportunity to meet and discuss issues with “thousands of Ohioans” last week.

This included “people across the political spectrum,” Portman said, such as those protesting the actions taken by the Trump administration so far.

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Portman said he heard their concerns, and that he would be tough on Trump where appropriate, such as in opposing the lifting of sanctions against Russia for their actions in Crimea and Ukraine.

“I know passions are high on both sides, frankly,” Portman said, adding that we are “divided as a nation.”

However, he continued, “We are listening and will continue to listen.”

He said that he hoped Trump would stay on task and bring ideas and policy before the joint session of Congress that both sides could agree on.

“My advice to the President is to focus on that policy agenda,” Portman said in response to questions about the President’s confrontational and divisive speaking style.

He reminded reporters that he did not vote for Trump himself, instead casting a protest vote for Mike Pence, but that he was trying to work with the administration and hold them to task.

He also noted that Congress continued to work on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, “because it’s collapsing on its own weight”, he said. But that he wanted to make sure folks covered under expanded Medicaid, including addicts in recovery and those receiving coverage for mental health issues, did not lose their coverage. However, he avoided questions about whether he would scrap the ACA entirely with a repeal and replace plan, or would be open to making tweaks to the existing system.

“Whether it’s reform, repair, or replace,” Portman said, “we need a new system.”

“(The ACA is) just not working,” he said noting that the exchanges were not working as insurance companies pulled out and that made the cost of policies offered “much more expensive.”

Portman also talked about his Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Protection Act, or STOP Act. This act attempts to close loopholes that make it easier for drug dealers in the U.S. to receive synthetic opioids like fentanyl through the mail from places like China. While commercial shippers like FedEx or UPS are required to track packages in a way that shows the origin, who sent it, and what it contains, the United States Postal Service does not currently require this advanced level of tracking. Portman’s bill would require those advanced levels of tracking, among other measures, to help stem the flow of synthetic opioids.

He said he was heartened by a recent move from China to ban the manufacture of carfentanil and some other fentanyl type opioids, but that it doesn’t negate the need for provisions like those outlined in the STOP Act.

“It’s good news,” he said, “and we’ll see if it’s implemented in a way that cuts back… on the synthetic heroin. I hope China cracks down on these laboratories. If they’re going to crack down, it’s very good news.”