The opioid crisis continues to rage – claiming more than 450,000 lives from overdoses in just the last two decades – and it’s only gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic. But all that carnage stems from the opioids we know. Sen. Tom Cotton is raising concerns about a new, mostly unknown, and deadly substance just starting to claim American lives.
Earlier this month Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, introduced a new bill to permanently ban Isotonitazene, or “ISO.” It’s classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I controlled substance. While that’s the same classification as cannabis, the two are nothing alike.
Just like fentanyl (which is what killed Prince and is responsible for robbing hundreds of thousands of our neighbors of their lives), ISO is also mostly manufactured in China and usually mixed in with popular street drugs like heroin.
Last April US Customs and Border Protection seized 1.6 grams of ISO in California, according to the DEA. And, as of August, there have been 98 cases of ISO in the United States, according to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System database.
Last year Cotton authored and helped usher the Fentanyl Sanctions Act into law. It established a commission on synthetic opioid trafficking as a way of combating all the opioids flooding America’s suburban, rural, and urban streets alike.
ISO could be the new fentanyl. And that has already overworked public health officials worried, including Dr. Jill Thompson – the medical director of North Carolina’s Harmony Recovery Center. That’s partly because the life saving drugs, like Narcan, that are being employed to stem the tidal wave of fentanyl overdoses isn’t working the same with ISO patients.
“Treatment of ISO overdose is more difficult than that of other opiates,” Thompson told Healthline.com. “Reportedly, Narcan is effective but must be used in higher doses and perhaps multiple times.”
With the potential for a new wave of opioid overdoses in the US, Sen. Cotton is urging this hyper-partisan – and utterly gridlocked – Congress to finally be proactive. Otherwise countless more Americans may be needlessly lost in the coming months and years.
A couple years back Congress was able to pass a bipartisan opioid package aimed at providing more resources to first responders, along with increasing funding to test for opioids hidden in shipping containers. Tom Cotton says Congress can’t let up now.
“These efforts have made a difference, but the fight isn’t over,” Cotton said. “ISO has no recognized medical or industrial use—it is nothing more and nothing less than a way to profit off of addiction and death.”