Shaheen, Cornyn Call on DOJ to Provide Guidance on Boosting Support for Forensic Labs In Efforts to Combat Opioid Epidemic

November 09, 2017

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and John Cornyn (R-TX) led a letter with a bipartisan group of 30 senators to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking him to provide Congress with information detailing how the Department of Justice (DOJ) is supporting and prioritizing forensic science service providers across the nation as a part of a broader approach to combat the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid crisis knows no boundaries; it reaches into homes in every community in every region of this country.  Stopping the flow of these drugs is critical to ending the crisis, but to do so requires the ability to trace the drugs to their source.  This demands a forceful and vigorous effort by our forensic science community,” wrote the senators.

The senators continued, “The current opioid crisis has overwhelmed the nation’s collective laboratory systems with more than a 6000% increase in the last four years, according to National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) data provided by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Case backlogs and turnaround times are growing. Dangerous emerging drugs are not being scheduled to make them illegal, and deaths likely associated with drug overdose are not being investigated completely by medical examiners and coroners.”

The bipartisan coalition of senators call on the DOJ to provide a comprehensive list to Congress within 30 days, detailing how the Department is supporting and prioritizing forensic science service providers, and to also explain how the Department is including grant programs and technical assistance for providers at the state, county and local levels to help combat the public health crisis. The forensic science community plays a critical role in communities affected by the opioid epidemic. Labs and other forensic science service personnel help local law enforcement and federal agencies trace drugs to their source by helping to analyze evidence, find importers, manufacturers and distributors, and to determine causes of death in overdoses.

Senator Shaheen, the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, and Senator Hassan introduced legislation to help the State Police Forensic Laboratory and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New Hampshire and their counterparts across the country that are dealing with dramatically increased demands and serious backlogs as a result of the opioid epidemic. Earlier this month, Senator Shaheen sent a letter to President Trump with a group of 19 senators, calling on the President to support additional funding necessary to combat the opioid epidemic. Senator Shaheen has been a leader in Congress on combating the opioid crisis, and was instrumental in efforts to obtain emergency funding through the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law by President Obama last year. Earlier this year, she helped secure over $700 million in additional opioid treatment resources. Shaheen recently helped unveil legislation that would provide $45 billion to respond to the opioid crisis, which is the largest response bill to combat the epidemic to date.

The bipartisan group supporting Senators Shaheen and Cornyn’s letter include Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Boozman (R-AR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Thad Cochran (R-MI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), James Inhofe (R-OK), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), James Risch (R-ID), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The letter can be read in full here