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Public Statements

Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PORTMAN. Mr. President, I rise to talk about a couple of amendments that were included in the legislation we voted on here this afternoon in the Senate. I am speaking of the Food and Drug Administration legislation. That legislation included two very important amendments that deal with combating legal drug abuse here in this country.

I want to start by thanking my colleagues, Senators Schumer, Klobuchar, Grassley, and Enzi, for helping to develop and promote this legislation over many months. The legislation addresses what is called synthetic drugs. I also want to thank them for helping see it through to passage as an amendment today.

Senator Grassley actually shared with me a story a few weeks ago of a young man from Iowa, David Mitchell Rozga, an 18-year-old, who sadly took his life after using this synthetic drug known as K2, or spice. It is synthetic marijuana. He had purchased it legally at a local shopping mall.

In recent weeks, we have seen lots of news accounts of some of the savage acts committed by people high on these synthetic drugs, such as the widely reported cannibalism in Miami, FL. I saw today another horrible story about another man in Waco, TX. We have seen lots of deaths reported in my home State of Ohio due to synthetic drugs. Very recently we had a report of the Columbus, OH, police having to shoot two men who were high on what are called bath salts. One was shot fatally. There is synthetic marijuana out there, but also synthetic stimulants and synthetic hallucinogens. Unfortunately, people don't know they are dangerous because they are not illegal. So we need to act and act now, and we are doing so through this legislation today.

As I said, one of the drugs is called spice. It sounds like an ingredient you would find in a kitchen, something benign you would find on a shelf somewhere. The same with bath salts. Unfortunately, they are not benign at all. They are not what you think they are. They are dangerous compounds that can cause tremendous devastation, and we need to be sure we get the word out.

Users are led to believe they are getting a legal version of something that mimics marijuana, cocaine, LSD, or any other illegal street drug that is under what is called Schedule I of the Federal Food and Drug Administration. This means they are illegal drugs. But because these synthetic drugs are legal, again, users think they are safe. But they produce adverse reactions that are truly unexpected and sometimes bizarre. And like the street versions that are on Schedule I at the Federal level, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FDA have both concluded none of these drugs has any currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

It seems to me it is appropriate for us to list them under Schedule I. And again, that is what the Senate did today, following the House of Representatives. Because they are legal, they are accessible, particularly on the Internet. I have Googled a number of them, including K2, and it is alarming to see how easy it is to purchase them and how they are advertised. It is time to put them on Schedule I, just like street drugs, and by doing so we give the DEA the ability to prevent these drugs from being distributed or imported into the United States, and also allows them to pursue the manufacturers of these drugs.

A lot of families have suffered from synthetic drugs, and sometimes those families come to me. I have done a lot of work over the years in prevention and education of substance abuse. I started a coalition back home that continues to do great work in the greater Cincinnati area. I have been involved in encouraging community coalitions around the country, and I am hearing more and more about these synthetic drugs. Families come to me because they are hoping something positive will come out of the tragedies they have experienced; that the word will get out through these tragedies and other young people and adults won't lose their lives.

I heard one such story in the Senate about the family of Caleb Tanner Hixson in Riceville, TN.

Tanner was a student at Lee University in Cleveland, TN, majoring in exercise and health science. After graduating, he wanted to study for an advanced degree in physical therapy. Besides studying in that field, he was an avid athlete and outdoorsman. He had played competitive baseball his whole life, and he was also into hiking and canoeing. But all that promise was cut off on March 8 of this year when Tanner died as a result of a cardiac arrest after ingesting alcohol and a synthetic drug at a party in Chattanooga, TN. He was 22 years old. That drug is easily purchased on the Internet. In fact, it is identified on the Internet as being a ``research chemical.''

His cousin, Brandi White, was the one who told me about this incident on the Senate floor. Brandi actually works in the leadership office. I appreciated her sharing this story with me, and my heart goes out to her family. She said she called Tanner's mom to tell her about the legislation when we got it onto the bill, and she called her again today to tell her the legislation had passed. Although it is little comfort when you have lost a son, it is some comfort. I appreciate the fact that her family was willing to share that story so that other young people will not make that same mistake.

This legislation puts these dangerous drugs on what is called schedule I. We don't want one more young person to make one more bad decision and to die or have a serious health problem as a result of thinking these synthetic drugs are safe because Washington hasn't put them on the list to tell people they are unsafe.

If we want to do right by the safety and health of our children as well as our communities, closing this loophole, of course, was just something commonsense--and, by the way, something bipartisan, along the lines of what my colleague said earlier about how we ought to be operating in the Senate.

I am also proud to see bipartisan support for passage of another amendment today. This is legislation that I introduced with Senator Whitehouse along with Congressman Hal Rogers from Kentucky. This deals with the prescription drug problem we have. There is a prescription drug abuse problem throughout the country, but in Ohio we have been hit hard. One of the issues I found in going to a townhall in southern Ohio was the fact that the State prescription drug monitoring programs couldn't communicate and operate across State lines.

I did a townhall where Director Gil Kerlikowse of the Office of National Drug Policy kindly came to Portsmouth, OH, about 1 year ago in July 2011, which is in southern Ohio on the banks of the Ohio River, an area that has been in the center of prescription drug abuse and interstate drug trafficking. It is also right across the river from Kentucky and right near West Virginia, so it is an interstate area.

Prescription drug abuse has devastated the county in which Portsmouth sits, Scioto County, as well as other counties in the area. But because of the hard work of family members, community leaders, and Federal, State, and local law enforcement, there has been some momentum and we are beginning to turn things around. Pill shops are being closed. One critical tool they told me they needed was prescription drug monitoring programs that could work across State lines. This is a database that a lot of States use to monitor prescription drug abuse so when someone goes to ask for a prescription, the person responsible for implementing the program or someone at a pharmacy or a doctor knows what prescriptions this person has already received. These are very effective programs.

Forty-eight States have them, one territory has it, and they work well within the State but they don't communicate well within the States, between each other. Again, in a place such as Scioto County, where we have interstate traffic, this legislation will now protect our community and ensure that if someone gets a prescription in Ohio and then goes across to Kentucky to fill it once they have reached their limit in Ohio, that there will be a monitoring program and a database available. So it succeeds by getting States' different programs to work together securely, reliably, and efficiently.

I would also like to thank the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs, which has played a pivotal role in promoting national interoperability standards.

These are examples where the Senate acted to try to make our communities safer and to help ensure that young people can achieve their God-given potential. Working together, we have been able today to help ensure the health and well-being of our communities.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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