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September 22, 2020


Cotton Introduces Bill to Outlaw Dangerous New Opioid Isotonitazene


Washington, D.C. — Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) today introduced a bill that would permanently ban isotonitazene, or “iso,” a dangerous synthetic opioid with no legitimate medical or industrial use. Like fentanyl, iso is manufactured by illicit drug labs in China and shipped to other countries, including the United States, where it is sold to unsuspecting individuals.


The bill text may be found here. Cotton’s floor speech on the bill may be watched here. The full text of his speech can be found below.



We are facing momentous issues in the Senate, in Washington, and in our nation. Today we’re debating a spending bill to keep the government funded past the end of this month. There are ongoing negotiations to provide relief to those most affected by the coronavirus. With the sad news of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, there is now a Supreme Court vacancy as well.


As momentous as these issues are, we ought not miss what’s happening on the streets of America though, as too many in Washington missed for years as Americans were dying by the thousands as a result of the opioid epidemic that hit this country. From prescription pills, to heroin, to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Now in recent years, Washington has gotten the news, and we’ve taken action to try and stem the tide of drug overdoses around our country. But the fight continues. So, I want to call the Senate and the nation’ attention to a new threat.


“Isotonitazene” is harder to pronounce than fentanyl, but it is equally deadly—it’ll kill you in a heartbeat—and it also comes from China.


Reports of “iso”—as this hard to pronounce drug is often called on the street—are still scattered. A shipment was seized in Canada early last year. Now it’s been popping up in Europe—in countries as far-flung as Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Sweden, and the UK.


And at about the same time, iso has found its way to America as well. It’s turned up in pill or powder form, seemingly shipped in concentrated, small quantities that escape detection too often. Once it’s here, it’s usually cut with other drugs, like heroin and cocaine, to make them more powerful—and much more deadly. An unsuspecting drug user can inject a tainted dose or take a counterfeit prescription drug pill and be dead within minutes. Iso is just like fentanyl in that regard.


According to the DEA, iso is confirmed to have killed at least 18 Americans in four different states, and has been encountered in at least 48 confirmed incidents across nine states. However, tt has likely killed many more—we don’t know for sure, because tests for iso still aren’t widely available given its novelty, and overdose deaths due to a cocktail of iso mixed with heroin, cocaine, or other drugs may be inadvertently attributed only to the known substance.


What we do know is that iso is just the latest weapon of Chinese drug dealers in their Opium War against America. First, they developed designer fentanyl analogues, which have killed—and continue to kill—Americans by the thousands.


However, we’ve taken strong action against fentanyl. Last year, we passed my bill, the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, to punish Chinese drug dealers. And the president—equally importantly—pressured China’s leaders to crack down on underground drug labs in their own country, which sent nine fentanyl smugglers to prison.


These efforts have made a difference, but the fight isn’t over. China’s drug dealers have developed a new poison to send to America. 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. These Chinese drug dealers want iso to be the next fentanyl.


So we have to take strong action to make sure they fail—before more Americans are killed.


The DEA has already taken swift action by classifying iso as a Schedule One controlled substance—its most restrictive classification. But this is only a temporary measure that’ll last two years, at most.  Congress should therefore act to ensure iso stays on that list for good.


That’s why I’m introducing legislation to permanently classify iso as a Schedule One controlled substance. This will ensure iso receives the strictest regulations under our drug laws. And it’ll help our brave drug-enforcement agents keep this drug off of our streets.


Furthermore, I call upon the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party to crack down on the production of iso in the Chinese mainland. If the leaders of the Party wish to reduce tensions, if they wish to improve relations, they ought not to allow their own criminals to manufacture drugs with no legitimate purpose specifically designed for smuggling into America to poison our citizens.  


I urge my colleagues and the administration to join this effort to stop iso before it spreads even further. This drug has already killed too many of our fellow citizens. We need to stop it before it kills even more.