America’s Drug Crisis: Is Government Doing Enough?

Join host Tim Constantine on this gripping episode of The Capitol Hill Show as we delve deep into the heart of America’s drug crisis. With opioid overdoses skyrocketing and communities across the nation in turmoil, it’s time to confront the harsh realities head-on.

In this episode, Tim sits down with a diverse panel of guests including Senator James Lankford, a leading voice in the fight against drugs, drug counsellors who are on the ground working the frontlines, and a brave mother – April Babcock, who tragically lost her son to the deadly grip of fentanyl.

Maryland Death by Distribution Law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly are hearing bills to prohibit the distribution of heroin and fentanyl without lawful authority to do so. Victoria & Scottie’s Law is named in honor of two individuals who died from fentanyl overdoses. The bill would impose up to 20 years of imprisonment on anyone convicted of selling these substances that lead to serious bodily injury or death.

Senate Lawmakers Issue ‘Urgent Request’ to President Biden to Close De Minimis ‘Loophole’

Two U.S. senators penned an “urgent request” to President Joe Biden this weekend, pushing for the use of executive authority to end the de minimis trade “loophole.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fl.) on Saturday sent an open letter to the president asking him to end duty-free treatment for e-commerce shipments worth under $800-an exemption created by Section 321 of the Tariff Act.

According to the lawmakers, the rule is being exploited to facilitate “the import of illegal products, goods produced with forced labor, and other contraband to the detriment of U.S. manufacturers, workers and communities.” De minimis doesn’t just provide foreign shippers with financial benefits, they argued-it also allows bad actors to circumvent customs enforcement, as individual packages of lower value often enter the country “with minimal to zero inspections.”

The legislators said that Chinese goods made with forced labor “appear to be the heaviest users of de minimis, undermining enforcement of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA).” About 3 million parcels enter the country each day using the de minimis rule, and they pose an “elevated risk” of being made with forced labor, containing counterfeit products or contributing to the fentanyl crisis, as drugs have been smuggled in small, low-value shipments.

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eBay and the Department of Justice settle over pill press sales

On January 31, 2024, eBay and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement: In return for not prosecuting eBay for alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) related to the sale of pill presses and encapsulating machines since 2015, eBay will pay $59 million and strengthen compliance programs around the sale of these machines on their platforms.

In a statement, eBay reiterated that the company “expressly denies the DOJ’s allegations and the settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing.”

The Partnership for Safe Medicines has monitored the online pill press market for years, which means we have witnessed eBay’s efforts to successfully suppress the sale of these products on its platform. In light of this settlement, it is likely that other platforms that could be used to sell pill presses and encapsulating machines may ban these sales rather than undertake the burden of compliance. In the future, pill press sales will likely be confined to overseas platforms that are more difficult for U.S. regulators to reach.

This appears to be the first time that the U.S. Department of Justice has applied the “broker” role in this statute to an online marketplace for pill press or encapsulating machine transactions. This follows the Biden administration’s novel use of Treasury sanctions against Chinese pill press manufacturers in 2023.

Read the full analysis and the settlement document on the Partnership for Safe Medicines website.

Senators urge Biden to end duty-free treatment for packages valued at less than $800

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two U.S. senators looking to crack down on the number of packages from China that enter the country duty-free are calling on President Joe Biden to take executive action, saying U.S. manufacturers can’t compete with low-cost competitors they say rely on forced labor and state subsidies in key sectors.

U.S. trade law allows packages bound for American consumers and valued below a certain threshold to enter tariff-free. That threshold, under a category known as “de minimis,” stands at $800 per person, per day. The majority of the imports are retail products purchased online.

Alarmed by the large increase in such shipments from China, lawmakers in both chambers have filed legislation to alter how the U.S. treats imports valued at less than $800. Now, Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rick Scott, R-Fla., have sent a letter to Biden calling on him to end the duty-free treatment altogether for those products.

“The situation has reached a tipping point where vast sections of American manufacturing and retail are at stake if de minimis is not immediately addressed,” the senators wrote.

Brown and Scott singled out Temu, Shein and AliExpress in their letter as companies that “unfairly” benefit from the duty-free treatment of their goods. The surge in shipments, they said, hurts big box stores and other retailers in the U.S.

“This out-of-control problem impacts the safety and livelihoods of Americans, outsourcing not only our manufacturing, but also our retail sectors to China, which — as you know — systematically utilizes slave labor among other unconscionable practices to undermine our economy,” the senators said.

The White House referred questions to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter provided to The Associated Press.

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EBay will pay $59m settlement over pill presses sold on the site

– the kind used to make counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl

February 1, 2024 at 5:04 AM EST

The e-commerce giant eBay will pay $59 million in a settlement with the Justice Department over thousands of pill press machines sold on the platform, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The machines can be used to manufacture counterfeit pills that look just like prescription pills but instead can be laced with substances like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug that is largely fueling the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history.

The company failed to verify buyers’ identities and keep records required by law, and many people who bought pill presses on eBay have been prosecuted in connection with trafficking illegal counterfeit pills, the Justice Department said.

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‘I don’t see how it ends’: expert sounds alarm on new wave of US opioids crisis

Dr Art Van Zee set out in the early 2000s to tell anyone who would listen how a powerful opioid was destroying lives. Two decades later, he’s still in disbelief

When Dr Art Van Zee finally understood the scale of the disaster looming over his corner of rural Virginia, he naively imagined the drug industry would be just as alarmed.

So the longest serving doctor in the struggling former mining town of St Charles set out in the early 2000s to tell pharmaceutical executives, federal regulators, Congress and anyone else who would listen that the arrival of a powerful new opioid painkiller was destroying lives and families, and laying the ground for a much bigger catastrophe.

Two decades later, as Van Zee surveys the devastation caused by OxyContin and the epidemic of opioid addiction it unleashed, he is still in disbelief at the callous indifference to suffering as one opportunity after another was missed to stop what has become the worst drug epidemic in US history.

But the 76-year-old doctor is also shocked that the crisis has got so much worse than even he imagined as one fresh wave of narcotics after another dragged in new generations and drove the death toll ever higher.

“This region has been through a lot but the drug problem is the worst thing that’s ever happened in central Appalachia in terms of human cost and devastation to individuals and families. You’ve got all these families that came apart, children living with dysfunctional parents or went into foster care. Children who learned from their parents to take drugs from a young age. The devastation is going to go on for generations,” he said.

It didn’t have to happen. There were so many missed opportunities. So many times it could have been stopped. Now, I don’t see how it ends.”

As it turned out, the drug industry was alarmed by Van Zee’s warnings, but not in the way he expected. It saw the doctor as a threat to profits and so from the very beginning, big pharma responded by working to discredit Van Zee and others like him who rang the alarm on high strength opioids creating mass addiction.

Read the entire article on the The Guardian website.

Jelly Roll urges Congress to pass anti-fentanyl trafficking legislation: “It is time for us to be proactive”

Rapper-turned-country singer Jelly Roll spoke about the importance of prioritizing the fentanyl crisis at a Senate hearing on Thursday. 

The musician, whose real name is Jason DeFord, testified before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, chaired by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Jelly Roll urged Congress to pass Brown’s Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act, which would wield financial sanctions against drug traffickers to disrupt the flow of opioids coming in from China and Mexico. 

Jelly Roll, who from the age of 14 spent 10 years in and out of detention facilities for drug dealing and other crimes, said he was part of the problem but now wants to be part of the solution. 

“I brought my community down. I hurt people,” he testified. “I was the uneducated man in the kitchen playing chemists with drugs I knew absolutely nothing about, just like these drug dealers are doing right now when they’re mixing every drug on the market with fentanyl. And they’re killing the people we love.”

Sen. Brown cited data showing 110,000 Americans died due to unintentional drug overdoses in 2022.

Read the full article and watch the video on the CBS News website.

Put naloxone in schools so it can save lives

Drug-overdose deaths among people 10–19 years old jumped 109% between 2019 and 2021 in the U.S. To save lives, the AMA supports widespread access to safe and affordable opioid overdose-reversal drugs.

“We are facing a national opioid crisis and it’s affecting our young people at an alarming rate. Just as students carry prescription inhalers to treat an asthma attack, we must destigmatize substance-use disorders and treat naloxone as a lifesaving tool,” said Bobby Mukkamala, MD, chair of the AMA Substance Use and Pain Care Task Force.

“Fortunately, an overdose tragedy can be reversed if quick action is taken with these safe and effective medications like naloxone,” Dr. Mukkamala said. “Allowing teachers and students to carry these medications is a commonsense decision and will no doubt result in young lives saved.”

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