Rep. Katko Shares CNY Stories of Heroin Epidemic, Urges Colleagues to Pass Legislation Combating Synthetic Drugs

June 13, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. John Katko (NY-24) spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives today to honor the lives of Morgan Brittany Axe, who died from a heroin overdose, and Victor Orlando Woolson, who drowned after using the synthetic drug fentanyl.

This week and next week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on numerous pieces of legislation that offer solutions to the opioid and synthetic drug epidemic that has plagued Central New York and communities nationwide.

Video of Representative Katko’s can be found here. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today, as the House considers legislation to address the heroin and synthetic drug epidemic plaguing our country, to honor the memories of two young people from my district.

Morgan Brittany Axe, who died from a heroin overdose more than two and a half years ago, and Victor Orlando Woolson, who drowned after using synthetic drugs almost six years ago.

Morgan and Victor were both active members of our community, and touched the lives of every person they interacted with.

Before she passed away, Morgan worked at the DeWitt Animal Hospital and treated sick and injured animals on a daily basis. Victor was a high achieving graduate of Mexico High School and was enrolled in Cayuga Community College, where he studied criminal justice and psychology.

Drug addiction is a terrible disease. Morgan became addicted to Xanax after the suicide of her boyfriend. She was just 17 years old. Morgan became dependent on Xanax and needed it to function on a daily basis. She then progressed to other pills in order to numb her pain.

After a long battle with heroin and prescription painkillers, Morgan found sobriety for eight months and was on the drug Vivitrol. Vivitrol makes it impossible for addicts to get high on heroin or painkillers. After she found out that she was pregnant, Morgan went off Vivitrol because she did not want it to harm her child. Unfortunately, post-acute withdrawal set in, and Morgan relapsed. Morgan did not have to drive to a drug house on Syracuse's West Side to buy the bag of heroin that killed her. Instead, a career drug dealer delivered it her house in Fairmount. After doing one bag of the heroin, Deanna Axe found her daughter lifeless in her bedroom. Morgan overdosed and died and her unborn child, Isaiah Douglas Lee Mathis, died with her. Morgan’s drug dealer, Anthony Vita, was federally prosecuted and is now in prison for the next 15 years, however, Vita in prison will not bring Morgan back.

Victor was your average happy-go-lucky teenager who had many friends. He was not only a loyal friend, but a loving brother, uncle, and grandson. Victor graduated Mexico High School with an Advanced Regents Diploma and had 4 years in the Marine Core Jr. R.O.T.C. In college, Victor was contemplating a career in law enforcement.

While attending Cayuga Community College, Victor began experimenting with synthetic drugs that he was able to purchase legally. Because he could buy these substances over the counter, Victor assumed these illicit substances were safe.  But at the young age of 19, Victor suffered from a fatal reaction to synthetic marijuana also known as K2/Spice and drowned in Lake Ontario.

After Victor’s tragic death, his mother, Teresa, channeled her sadness and anger indo advocacy, and founded the Victor Orlando Woolson Foundation (V.O.W. Foundation), which advocates for stronger legislation against synthetic drugs and assists individuals and organizations in providing services for mentally ill, homeless, and low income youth in Oswego County.

It has been my honor to fight alongside Teresa, and this year, I invited her to be my guest at the State of the Union in order to highlight the need to address and combat the use of synthetic drugs.

I’m proud to fight in memory of Morgan and Victor, and in this Congress, I introduced the Stop the Importation and Trafficking Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act. The SITSA Act modernizes the Controlled Substances Act by speeding up the process of placing synthetic drugs on the Controlled Substances list. Under current law, drug producers often make minor tweaks to illegal substances that mimic the effects of banned drugs and use this loophole to prevent law enforcement from removing these drugs from circulation.

Together, by passing this legislation, we can prevent synthetic drugs from: (1) being imported into this country; (2) being routinely mixed with Heroin in fatal doses; and (3) from being sold over the counter in head shops and bodegas throughout this country. We can honor the lives of Morgan Brittany Axe and Victor Orlando Woolson, and the countless others in our community and nationwide who have been affected by this scourge,  by passing this landmark legislation, as well as voting in favor of the other opioid related bills before the House this week. Every bill that we pass will be one step in the right direction and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.

Rep. Katko introduced the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act last summer following the surge of local synthetic drug overdoses. The bill is scheduled for a vote in the House this Friday.