WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Senate colleagues in a letter to the European Commission this week, urging their support for increased international oversight of chemicals used to manufacture the synthetic opioid fentanyl. According to a report from the Ohio Department of Health, fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Ohio more than doubled from 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015. A recent Columbus Dispatch report highlighted the state of Ohio as a top destination for fentanyl trafficked from China.

“Ohioans have seen the devastating effects of fentanyl in their communities firsthand,” said Brown. “Stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic in Ohio will require the cooperation of local, federal, and international partners. By securing the European community’s support, we can strengthen our efforts to crack down on international trafficking that helps fuel the opioid crisis in Ohio.”

In March, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will meet to discuss how best to address international trafficking and manufacturing of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The U.S. is requesting that the chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl be classified as Table I substances, which opens them up to increased oversight. The senators wrote to the European Commission seeking their support, as the European Union constitutes the largest voting bloc of the CND.

Brown has worked to combat the scourge of opioid use in Ohio. Last Congress, Brown introduced legislation that would help address the opioid epidemic from prevention to recovery, filling in gaps that would help: boost prevention, improve tools for crisis response for those who fall through the cracks, expand access to treatment, and provide support for lifelong recovery. Brown supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), signed into law last year, which included his provision to combat drug abuse within Medicare by locking those with a history of addiction into one prescriber and one pharmacy to help mitigate the risk of prescribing opioids to at-risk patients. He has also worked to expand use of MAT, which was expanded under CARA, and cosponsored The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act to further expand access to this form of treatment.

A copy of the letter is included below.

Jean-Claude Junker


European Commission
Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200
1049 Brussels, Belgium

President Junker,

We write to request the European Commission’s assistance in addressing a significant aspect of the opioid epidemic that is killing Americans at alarming rates. 

At the end of last year, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) issued a questionnaire to the 54 members of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) that sought input on a proposal to designate both N-Phenethyl-4-piperidinone (NPP) and 4-anilino-N-phenethyl-4-piperidine (ANPP), which are precursor chemicals of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, as Table I substances under the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Ultimately, the CND is empowered to decide, upon the recommendation of the INCB, to place precursor chemicals, used for the manufacture of illicit drugs, under international control.

As you may be aware, an influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, has contributed to a serious public health crisis in the U.S.  According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s most recent threat assessment, from 2013 to 2014, deaths in the United States caused by synthetic opioid abuse increased by nearly 80 percent.  As a means of illicitly manufacturing fentanyl, traffickers are now seeking its precursor chemicals NPP and ANPP directly.  The Wall Street Journal has reported that one such network purchases these chemicals from Chinese companies, ships them to transnational criminal organizations located in Mexico, and then illicitly manufactures fentanyl along the U.S. border.  Most troublingly, the unregulated purchase of NPP and ANPP is perfectly consistent with current international law because these chemicals are not currently controlled under international drug treaties.  NPP and ANPP are already controlled in the U.S. under the Controlled Substances Act, which imposes certain licensing and approved use requirements.  However, without collective international action it will be difficult to control international manufacture, distribution and sales of NPP and ANPP, and as a result will frustrate efforts to curb manufacturing and trafficking of illicit fentanyl.

We believe that the 1988 Convention could be a critical tool in regulating the sale and export of NPP and ANPP.  Given that twelve EU member states are also members of the CND and form the largest voting bloc, we would greatly appreciate support from the European Commission for the U.S. request to designate NPP and ANPP as Table I substances when it is considered at the March CND meeting in Vienna.

Thank you for the Commission’s continued support for actions to address issues of mutual concern between the U.S. and European Union.