In Wisconsin in 2016, over 1000 people lost their lives to opioid overdoses. In fact, this epidemic has overtaken auto crash fatalities as the number one killer in the nation. As a Member of Congress, I have a duty to press hard to find solutions – quickly – before more lose their families and their lives. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, I've made fighting for solutions a top priority. There are things we can do to provide help for communities that are hit hard by the problem and things we can do to put up barriers and curb the availability for addicts to get ahold of the drugs.
In 2015, I was the primary sponsor of the House version of the landmark Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. This Congress, I introduced the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. I've been fortunate to team up with 5th District constituents who know this crisis firsthand. They have been invaluable in providing input as we work for real solutions. Pictured with me below are Dr. Tim Westlake, an emergency medical physician, and Lauri Badura, a mother who lost her son to the opioid epidemic.
Fentanyl is currently classified as a Schedule II controlled substance used to treat cancer patients. However, it is dangerous and can be lethal outside of the careful supervision of a doctor. Fentanyl abuse is one of the leading contributors to the opioid epidemic.
A new chemical compound, known as an analogue, is created by modifying one small piece of the chemical structure of fentanyl. These compounds fall into a legal loophole and contribute to the alarming rate of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. In fact, data from the Center for Disease Control (see below) indicates that synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl and its analogues, are the leading cause of drug overdoses.
Analogue producers are likely to continue developing new variations, and law enforcement agencies must have the tools to adapt to these changes. Under current law, DEA scheduling practices are reactive in nature. Typically, fentanyl analogues are only scheduled after they have resulted in deaths across multiples states.
That's why I've introduced the SOFA Act, which will save lives by fighting the spread of fentanyl analogues. The SOFA Act closes the legal loophole by adding nineteen known fentanyl analogues to the Schedule I list. It also gives the DEA the authority to immediately schedule new fentanyl analogues as they are discovered, making enforcement and scheduling procedures more proactive.
The bill shares the acronym of an organization started by Oconomowoc, WI resident Lauri Badura, who lost her son Archie to an overdose in 2014. Shortly after, she founded the faith-based non-profit Saving Others for Archie, Inc. to raise awareness and fight the opioid epidemic.
Earlier this year, Lauri attended President Trump’s first State of the Union address as the guest of Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who has introduced the Senate Version of SOFA.
The full text of H.R. 4922, the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act is available here.
SOFA in the News
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner gave the following statement on the House floor in support of H.R. 510, the Rapid DNA Act.
Congressman Sensenbrenner: Rapid DNA is a promising new technology that allows for the almost immediate DNA analysis of an arrestee. Unlike standard DNA practices which require sending DNA samples from arrestees out to labs with a result taking weeks to ascertain, Rapid DNA results take only a few hours and can be done right at the booking station. Like fingerprinting, photographing, and other booking procedures which at the time were novel but have now become routine, Rapid DNA will soon be standard procedure in police stations throughout the country.
There is only one problem with Rapid DNA technology--- Federal Law. Our law, written in 1994 when DNA technology was still in its infancy, prohibits the use of Rapid DNA technology in booking stations. This is not because of any limitation in Rapid DNA technology, but simply because at the time, Rapid DNA technology was not even contemplated. Similar to the transformation of musical devices – records leading to cassette tapes, cassette tapes leading to CDs, CDs leading to MP3, and now iPods and online music hosting services, -technology moves quicker than we can legislate. Now is the time to change the law to permit Rapid DNA technology.
Rapid DNA machines are compact, approximately the size of copy machines, and can provide a DNA analysis from a cheek swab sample of an arrestee within 2 hours. This has two profound implications. First, arrestees may be exonerated of crimes in 2 hours, rather than waiting for up to 72 hours for release, or months for more standard DNA testing. Second, those arrested for a crime, can quickly be matched to other unsolved crimes where there was forensic evidence left at the crime scene, but for which there is no identified suspect.
The Rapid DNA Act updates current law to allow DNA samples to be processed using Rapid DNA instruments located in booking stations and other approved locations. The bill will require the FBI to issue standards and procedures for the use such instruments and their resulting DNA analyses to ensure their integrity and the accuracy of results. It will permit those results to be included in the DNA Index if the criminal justice agencies taking Rapid DNA samples comply with the standards and procedures that the FBI approves. In this way, the bill would permit this new category of DNA samples to be uploaded to the index with the same protections and quality standards as current DNA samples.
Not only does H.R. 510 have the potential to reduce crime and help expeditiously exonerate the innocent, but also to positively impact the current backlogs for rape kits and other DNA sample analysis. This committee has spent a great deal of time and significant work to try and reduce the forensic DNA backlog, especially in rape kits. Rapid DNA could not at this time be used for rape kits, but the implementation of Rapid DNA will allow forensics labs to focus on forensic samples, not on identification samples which can easily be handled by Rapid DNA machines. I hope this will reduce the rape kit backlog which will also prevent future rapes from happening.
I am pleased that the House is taking a significant step in furthering the use of this technology. I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 510 and yield back the balance of my time.