Powerful synthetic drugs that are manufactured overseas will be harder to ship into the country, thanks to a crackdown created by a rare bipartisan move by the U.S. Congress.
Right around the same time Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court split the country apart, Democratic and Republican senators quietly came together to pass a package of bipartisan bills last week in a 98-1 vote to tackle the sale and misuse of synthetic drugs, with only Utah’s Mike Lee dissenting.
Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal came to the Green on Monday morning to talk about the package, known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. He said the 114 K2 overdoses that occurred over a couple of days in August on the Green provided lawmakers with horrifying reminders of why drug-trafficking controls needed to be tightened so urgently.
One part of the bill will require the U.S. Postal Service to document who’s shipping packages into the country and forward it to other agencies. Customs officials can then screen boxes from China and Mexico for illegal drugs like fentanyl and K2, intercepting and blocking shipments.
Other commercial carriers, like UPS and FedEx, were already required to submit the same information. This bill closes a loophole that left out the federal government’s own mail service.
Blumenthal said that he is “proud” that New Haven helped the bill along, providing “the impetus for this measure.” The overdoses on the Green “gave me the evidence,” he said.
Robert Lawlor, Jr., an intelligence officer covering New England’s high-intensity drug-trafficking areas, said that the federal government is still investigating where the bad batch of K2 that was passed around the Green came from. But he said that a “significant” quantity of synthetic drugs do arrive from overseas in the mail.
While that aspect of the case remains unconfirmed, the public safety officials said that the bill will address another big problem in the city’s response: the Narcan, a version of the drug that’s administered as a nasal spray, the cost has shot up to around $140 per pack, while generic versions run for about $20.
The price-gouging started just as overdose deaths started rising. Naloxone was first patented in 1961, but few drugmakers actually wanted to stock shelves with it. Prior to 2014, only six companies produced it, netting $21 million in revenue. increasing cost of naloxone”>The industry is now at least an order of magnitude bigger, with estimated revenues of $274 million a year.
“It’s killing us,” said Rick Fontana, the city’s deputy director of emergency operations. “We have been having a difficult time in funding Narcan for first responders. The costs are really creating a damper on budgets.”
Blumenthal said this bill won’t cap costs, but it will help agencies pay for what they need.
That extra money “is going to save lives,” Fontana said.
Last year, 42 people fatally overdosed in New Haven. Heroin and fentanyl proved the most deadly drugs. The state’s chief medical examiner found them in more than half of the overdose victims.
At the same time, across New Haven, public-safety employees administered nearly 600 doses of naloxone, Fontana said. New Haven’s police department, which does not currently carry the antidote, is looking into equipping officers with Narcan, said Assistant Chief Racheal Cain, which has been estimated to cost at least $40,000.
The package will also fund $1.5 billion for medication-assisted treatment and recovery coaches, and it will set standards for sober houses and other treatment facilities.
Blumenthal played a role in introducing other provisions that will boost drug takeback programs for pharmacies to collect unused prescription painkillers, expand disclosure for pharmaceutical company payments beyond doctors to nurses and physician assistants, and require doctors to ask seniors about substance use disorders.
“It’s by no means a final panacea, but we have made a start toward stopping the opioid epidemic in this country,” Blumenthal said.