CAMDEN, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today took the ongoing battle against the scourge of opioid addiction straight to the world’s top producer of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that is 50-times more potent than heroin and responsible for the largest spike in opioid-related deaths and overdoses. Standing on the Camden waterfront overlooking the Port of Philadelphia, site of a major fentanyl bust last summer, the senator laid out legislation that would impose sanctions on China and Chinese entities who supply and support the illicit drug trade trafficking in death in the United States.

“We need to fight the opioid epidemic from every angle,” said Sen. Menendez. “Over the last five years, the potent synthetic opioid known as fentanyl has poured into our country from China and saturated our communities with deadly consequences. I’ve spent years fighting to increase security at our ports, including making sure every piece of cargo is scanned for illegal drugs, weapons and other threats. But China shouldn’t be trafficking this venomous drug into the United States to begin with. It has to stop…. We need real accountability if we want to save American lives.”

Over 3,000 people in New Jersey died of a drug overdose in 2018, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse attributed the largest increase due to synthetic fentanyl. In Oct. 2017, 14 people in Camden overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin during a four-hour period. Last April, a “bad batch of heroin” laced with fentanyl was responsible for a dozen overdoses, including four deaths, in Camden. In June, inspectors seized 110 pounds of fentanyl, worth $1.7 million, from a Chinese cargo ship at the Port of Philadelphia.

The Fentanyl Sanctions Act would hold the Chinese government accountable for enforcing their recently announced ban on all fentanyl and provide the U.S. executive branch with flexible new sanction tools to go after actors, from manufacturers to traffickers, in China, Mexico and other countries.

Sen. Menendez, who has authored and passed sanctions legislation against other countries who pose a threat to the United States—including Russia, Iran and North Korea—said the same type of aggressive approach should be used to hold China accountable for its role in the national security crisis of opioid addiction.

“The bottom line is that we cannot simply take China’s word for it when they say they’ll crack down on fentanyl manufacturers—especially when American lives are at stake,” Sen. Menendez said. “With the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, we can send a clear message to the Chinese government that says your actions will have consequences.”

Specifically, this first-ever international sanctions bill to combat opioids would:

  • Require imposition of sanctions on drug manufacturers in China who knowingly provide synthetic opioids to traffickers, transnational criminal organizations like those in Mexico who mix fentanyl with other drugs and traffic them into the U.S. and financial institutions that assist such entities
  • Authorize new funding to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Department of Defense and Department of State, to combat the foreign trafficking of opioids
  • Urges the President to commence diplomatic efforts with U.S. partners to establish multilateral sanctions against foreign opioid traffickers
  • Establish a Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor U.S. efforts and report on how to more effectively combat the flow of synthetic opioids from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

The bipartisan bill is also co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Chinese regulators last week announced that a wider range of fentanyl derivatives would be declared controlled substances in China, beginning May 1, 2019, while continuing to deny that its illicit fentanyl producers are a major source of illicit opioids contributing to the U.S. opioid crisis.

“New Jersey tragically had a record number of overdose deaths last year, and fentanyl entering the U.S. market has certainly contributed to a surge in opioid-related events,” said Congressman Donald Norcross (N.J.-01), Vice-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic. “It’s clear we need to work together, address the many different aspects of this crisis and implement a variety of tactics to help those suffering from the disease of addiction. The Fentanyl Sanctions Act gets to a root cause of fentanyl distribution and enforces accountability on China. It’s a needed step that will help save lives.”

“We have seen fentanyl create absolute terror within our community, it is by far and away the main source of overdose fatalities in Camden County and the state of New Jersey. In 2019, law enforcement has already deployed Naxolone more than 150 times throughout our county and more than 630 times throughout 2018. The opioid epidemic was already our number one public health crisis in the county and the advent of fentanyl has created far deadlier narcotics on the street creating a deadly cocktail for someone facing opioid use disorder,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., a leading advocate and founder of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force. “Illegal fentanyl shipments must be stopped and Sen. Menendez is providing the tools to do that in this bill.”

“Camden City had 90 fatal overdoses in 2017, which was more than 2016 and 2015 combined, and fentanyl was the primary culprit,” said Chief Scott Thomson of the Camden County Metro Police Department. “We will continue our collaboration with state and federal law enforcement partners in the relentless pursuit of those trafficking this extremely lethal product to get this poison off our streets. And I want to thank our representatives for putting more resources into the effort.”

“Here at Project H.O.P.E.’s West Street Health Center we’ve experienced first-hand the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic; the availability and abuse of powerful opioids such as fentanyl has led to a need for increased access to acute interventions such as Naloxone (Narcan) and immediate entry into treatment for ongoing care to combat the increased risk for lethal overdose events,” said Patricia DeShields, CEO of Project H.O.P.E., a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) located in Camden.

Sen. Menendez voted last year for the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which will help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers here in the United States. He also wrote several provisions of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 that expanded family-based treatment options, required the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to develop a comprehensive, national opioid action plan, and created an alternative to opioids pilot program based upon innovations to pain management treatment developed by St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson. The Senator cosponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), signed into law in 2016, which provides resources to states to expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription drugs and to develop better monitoring systems for prescription drug use, makes naloxone more widely available to law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help prevent overdoses and save lives, creates an evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and intervention program, and sets national treatment standards.