May 20,2016

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Wyden Raises Dangers of Powerful Opioid Fentanyl

Top Finance Democrat Asks CBP What Can Be Done to Stem Tide of Synthetically Produced Opioids Smuggled from Abroad

WASHINGTON Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today sent a letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske requesting more information about his agency’s efforts to control the smuggling of dangerous synthetic fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has been credited with a sharp rise in overdose deaths. The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

“Illegal fentanyl has the potential to open a new front in the opioid crisis that is already devastating communities in Oregon and across the country,” Wyden said. “Fentanyl is stronger than heroin and is proving even more deadly, so it is imperative the flow of these drugs, most of which come from abroad, is reined in before any more families experience the tragedy of an overdose.”

Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it is significantly stronger than heroin or other prescription opioids. Legal, prescribed fentanyl is typically used by late-stage cancer patients in the form of patches or lozenges. Illegally-produced fentanyl can be sold on its own in powder form, mixed and sold with heroin, or pressed into counterfeit prescription pills.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late last year issued a national health advisory warning of fentanyl’s dangers. In January, the CDC reported that overdose deaths attributed to synthetically manufactured opioids increased 80% from 2013 and 2014.

Current data indicate that overdoses deaths attributable to fentanyl have been mainly concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast. For example, fentanyl-related deaths in Maine rose by 867% from 2013 to 2015. And 330 people died from fentanyl in Massachusetts in 2015. However several outbreaks of fentanyl overdoses have occurred in Western states, including Oregon.

The full letter can be found here.

Earlier this year, Wyden supported the CDC’s guidelines on opioid prescribing practices, which would give health care providers more tools and information about when prescribing opioids for chronic pain is appropriate.

Additional information from the CDC about fentanyl and overdose prevention can be found here.