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U.S. Rep. John Katko Ushers Landmark Legislation Through Congress to Address Synthetic Drug & Heroin Crisis Plaguing CNY

June 15, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a bipartisan vote this morning, the U.S. House of Representatives passed historic legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. John Katko (NY-24) to address the heroin and synthetic drug epidemic plaguing Central New York and communities nationwide.

The bipartisan bill, the Stop the Importation of Synthetic Drug the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act of 2017 was authored and introduced by Katko last year in response to a surge in synthetic drug overdoses in Central New York.  

Toxic, synthetic drugs are designed to mimic street drugs like marijuana, LSD, cocaine, ecstasy and other hard drugs.  They can be more potent than the real thing and often times are more deadly. Unfortunately, when law enforcement encounters and begins to combat a specific synthetic drug compound, manufacturers of these substances are able to slightly alter the chemical structure of the drug. This puts law enforcement at a serious disadvantage, leaving them constantly one step behind.  Rep. Katko’s legislation will help to stop the unlawful importation and distribution of synthetic drugs by giving law enforcement the effective tools they need to crack down on these substances.  The bill modernizes the Controlled Substances Act and provides a mechanism by which synthetic analogues can be temporarily or permanently added to the Schedule A by the Attorney General.   This will allow scientific and research communities to develop information on these newly-invented substances.     

The bill was largely inspired by the advocacy of Oswego mother, Teresa Woolson, who lost her son Victor in 2012 when he drowned after using synthetic drugs that he purchased legally in a head shop in Oswego.  Since Victor’s death, Teresa has been a tremendous local and national advocate in the fight to outlaw synthetic drugs. 

Following passage today, Teresa Woolson stated, “I’m very excited about the passage of the SITSA Act.  Since the death of my son Victor almost 6 years ago, I have been educating and advocating about Synthetic Drugs through the non-profit I formed and named in his honor, the Victor Orlando Woolson Foundation, Inc. (VOW Foundation).  Victor died from a synthetic drug identified as XLR-11 and it took several years for this deadly drug to be placed on the controlled substance list.  The SITSA Act has several components that will help save lives, including a measure that will allow the temporary scheduling of an identified deadly drug.  I continue to applaud Congressman John Katko for his diligent efforts on this very important subject.  This is what I have been fighting for many years for and couldn’t be more pleased with this outcome.  Congressman Katko is not only a great representative in Washington, but his knowledge, expertise and compassion are truly appreciated.”

Speaking on the floor of the House this morning in support of the bill, Rep. Katko stated, “Synthetic drug abuse has crippled my community and the communities of many other Members in this chamber.  Last year, Syracuse area hospitals saw a record number of overdoses due to synthetic drug abuse.  In May of last year, over 15 individuals had overdosed on synthetic drugs and were taken to the ER in the span of 24 hours.  Unfortunately, stories like this have become the new normal.” 

He continued, “The potency and danger of synthetic drugs do not only threaten users, we are now seeing local law enforcement and first responders put in harm’s way simply by coming in contact with these often lethal substances.  Numerous cases across the country have resulted in emergency personnel becoming gravely ill and even dying while responding synthetic overdoses.  The threats synthetic drugs pose to our communities and law enforcement must be stopped. H.R. 2851 takes a big step towards eradicating these harmful substances and protecting our communities.  The bipartisan SITSA Act will give local, state, and federal law enforcement the necessary tools to target synthetic substances and the criminals who traffic them. 

Earlier this year, City of Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler testified before the House Energy & Commerce Committee to detail the impact of the synthetic drug epidemic in Syracuse and Central New York. 

Chief Fowler stated today, “The City of Syracuse has been greatly affected by the influx of synthetic opioids and other synthetic drugs. Earlier this year, I was honored to testify before the House Energy & Commerce Committee about how the SITSA Act will help local law enforcement. This legislation would establish tougher restrictions and penalties to those responsible for bringing these substances into our community. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to target the criminals responsible for trafficking these substances in hopes of making our community a safer place.”

Finally, Rep. Katko has worked alongside local healthcare providers on the front lines  each day in addressing this epidemic.  As a result, the bill earned the support of healthcare providers and first responders.

“Crouse Health applauds and thanks Congressman Katko and the co-sponsors of the SITSA Act legislation,” stated Monika Taylor, Director of Behavioral Health Services for Crouse Health in Syracuse. “Being on the front lines of the drug epidemic in Central New York, we see the terrible, tragic toll these synthetic opioids take every day, not only on the users, but also their families, friends, employers and the entire community. Swifter action to halt unlawful importation and distribution of these synthetic drugs is desperately needed if we are to save lives and this legislation is key to making that happen.”

Specifically the SITSA Act:

  • Modernizes the Controlled Substances Act by adding Schedule A to the existing 5 schedules.  It provides a mechanism by which synthetic analogues can be temporarily or permanently added to the Schedule A by the Attorney General.  This will allow scientific and research communities to develop information on these newly-invented substances. 
  • Specifically omits federal simple possession of a synthetic drug from the reach of the bill.
  • Adds to current law an offense for false labeling of controlled substance analogues.