by Yereth Rosen, Alaska Beacon
June 10, 2022
A U.S. Senate bill named after an Alaska victim of fentanyl seeks to inform the public about how that deadly synthetic opioid is often a secret ingredient of other illicit drugs used recreationally.
The goal is to create greater public awareness of fentanyl, a drug that is 50 times as deadly as heroin and 100 times as deadly as morphine, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the bipartisan bill’s Republican lead sponsor. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is the Democratic lead sponsor.
The bill, called Bruce’s Law, is named after Robert Bruce Snodgrass, a 22-year-old Anchorage resident who died last October from a fentanyl overdose.
“Bruce was a good kid. . . But like many good kids, he struggled with alcoholism. He struggled with drug addiction,” Murkowski said in a brief June 8 address on the Senate floor, with Snodgrass’ mother Sandy watching from the gallery.
Murkowski said the bill is a “starting point” in boosting education, awareness and response.
“We have to start because we have such a serious problem on our hands. We know we have it in Anchorage where Bruce Snodgrass likely never knew that he was taking a drug laced with fentanyl,” she said.
The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to start a public education and awareness campaign that focuses on the dangers of fentanyl contamination in other drugs, along with youth prevention and addiction detection, a statement from Murkowski’s office said.
It would also authorize the department to establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Fentanyl Contamination, which would work on ways to improve responses to overdoses of fentanyl-laced drugs and come up with recommendations for youth education, the statement said.
And the bill would authorize new grants for community-based coalitions to pay for youth education on this specific subject, the statement said.
In her floor comments, Murkowski went over information about the lethality of fentanyl. A lethal dose – ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin – can be as small as 2 milligrams, a volume the size of a pencil tip, she said. In comparison, she said, a typical packet of sweetener at a restaurant holds 1,000 milligrams.
Murkowski also pointed to some dire statistics in Alaska.
Of all states, Alaska had the highest jump in overdose deaths from 2020 to 2021, a 75% increase, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alaska opioid deaths specifically increased by 71% over the same period, Murkowski said in her speech. Of those opioid deaths, the majority involved fentanyl, she said.
She cited law-enforcement statistics, too. Within a month’s period, the Alaska State Troopers and police departments in Wasilla and Palmer reported six deaths and at least 17 other overdose cases in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough from a lethal batch of heroin, according to a trooper dispatch. Recent law-enforcement efforts have resulted in seizures of thousands of fentanyl-laced pills.
In three months, the amount of fentanyl seized in Alaska could have killed 84 percent of the state’s population, Murkowski said in her speech.
“This is awful. This is a tragedy at every level,” she said.
Joining Murkowski and Feinstein are two bill co-sponsors Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan and Sen. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat.
Aside from Bruce’s Law, Murkowski and several other lawmakers in the Senate and House have urged makers of naloxone, an overdose-reversal medicine, to apply for over-the-counter status for their product so that it is more widely available, said Hannah Ray, a spokeswoman for the senator.
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