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A congressional committee has advanced legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Katko to combat the growing synthetic drug problem. 

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017. The bill introduced by Katko, R-Camillus, would establish a sixth schedule under the Controlled Substances Act and add 13 synthetic fentanyl compounds to this new schedule, which would be referred to as Schedule A. 

Another main provision of the bill would give the Department of Justice authority to temporarily add a chemical compound to Schedule A. Having the ability to do that would give the agency time to review the chemical more closely and determine whether it should be added to the schedule on a permanent basis. 

Katko, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee in June and urged his colleagues to support the measure, lauded the panel for approving the bill. 

"In central New York and communities nationwide, synthetic opioid use is on the rise and continues to take innocent lives," he said. "The Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act will help stop the unlawful importation and distribution of these dangerous substances and give law enforcement the effective tools they need to keep our communities safe.

"I'm grateful for the swift attention of (Chairman Bob Goodlatte) and the House Judiciary Committee to this critical issue."

More than 52,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, including nearly 20 percent of whom overdosed on synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. 

Other synthetic drugs have caused health problems for users. Bath salts, K2 and Spice are just a few that have similar traits to more traditional street drugs like marijuana and ecstasy. 

Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, called synthetic drug abuse a "national crisis."

"Criminals can figure out a way to change one molecule in a drug, but the resulting drug is just as dangerous, and often even more so," he said. "This bill closes this dangerous loophole by ensuring our laws keep pace with the creation of new, chemically altered drugs and by providing law enforcement with the tools needed to keep these drugs off of our streets."

With the House Judiciary Committee's approval, the bill can be considered by the full House. 

In the House, Katko's bill has 12 cosponsors. One of the original supporters of the measure is U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Long Island. 

The Senate version of the bill also has bipartisan support. The bill's sponsor is U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. It's backed by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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