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Fact-check: Would One Fentanyl Seizure Be Able to Kill Every West Virginian 32 Times Over?

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In its purest form, two to three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. Courtesy: New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab

When President Donald Trump announced that he would go around Congress to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border by declaring a national emergency, U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., tweeted a video supporting the idea.

In the Feb. 15 video, Miller said, “West Virginia has been hit especially hard by illegal drugs smuggled across our southern border. Just two weeks ago, Customs and Border Protection seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in West Virginia 32 times over.”

There’s no question that West Virginia has been hit hard by the opioid crisis — PolitiFact West Virginia has previously reported that the state ranked No. 1 in the nation for opioid overdoses per capita.

But what about the idea that a single federal seizure of fentanyl could have killed every West Virginian 32 times over? We took a closer look.

Miller’s office told us that they were referring to late January seizure of 254 pounds of fentanyl by Customs and Border Protection at the Nogales port of entry in Arizona. The drugs — which were “concealed within a special floor compartment of a trailer that was laden with cucumbers,” according to the the agency — represented the largest fentanyl seizure in the agency’s history.

Miller’s office also walked us through the math they used to arrive at their figure.

The seizure of 254 pounds converts to 115.2 kilograms. In turn, 115.212 kilograms equals 115.212 million milligrams.

Miller’s office said it used 2 milligrams as a lethal dose of fentanyl, citing information from the Drug Enforcement Administration that 2 milligrams is “a lethal dose for most people.”

Meanwhile, 115.212 million milligrams works out to 57.606 million lethal doses of 2 milligrams each.

West Virginia’s population in 2018 was 1,805,832. If you divide 57.606 millon lethal doses by 1,836,843, it means that amount of fentanyl could theoretically kill every West Virginian 31.8 times over. Rounded up, that works out to the 32 times that Miller cited.

To make sure the 2 milligram threshold was sound, we checked with Timothy J. Pifer, the director of the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory, an expert on fentanyl and its lethality.

“Based upon research, toxicology reports and information from other agencies, two to three milligrams of fentanyl in its purest form could be fatal,” Pifer said.

However, he added that the technical details make a difference.

For one thing, if you use the 3 milligram threshold instead, the Nogales seizure would be enough to kill every West Virginian about 21 times over, not 32. There would also be a difference in lethality depending on the age, body size, and health of the individual in question.

In addition, Pifer added that “is not clear whether or not the 254 pounds is pure fentanyl or fentanyl that has been already diluted for sale or distribution on the street.” The average degree of purity would make a difference in its lethality.

One final point: Miller used the statistic to support the case for constructing a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the fentanyl was seized at a port of entry. A wall wouldn’t prevent that type of smuggling through established checkpoints.  

Our ruling

Miller said, “Just two weeks ago, Customs and Border Protection seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in West Virginia 32 times over.”

If you consider 2 milligrams to be a lethal dose — which the Drug Enforcement Administration does — then Miller’s estimate is very close to correct. The only caveat is that differences in purity and the health and size of the potential victim can make a difference.

That said, there’s no question that the fentanyl from the seizure, spread evenly and effectively through the population, could have killed every West Virginia resident many times over.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Rank in the Top Quarter of States for Education Spending?

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Striking teachers Michelle Myers, left, Holly O’Neil, center, and Suzanne Varner of McNinch Primary School in Moundville, W.Va., wave to passing cars outside the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va, on Feb. 23, 2018. Photo: AP

Does West Virginia rank among the top quarter of states for public education spending? That’s what the West Virginia Republican Party said in a Twitter thread recently that criticized the school system for subpar performance benchmarks.

In the April 5 thread, the party made the case that “West Virginia’s education system is not successfully serving our students. Comprehensive education reform will ensure students have what they need to succeed, parents have the freedom to decide the best education path for their children, and we invest in good teachers.”

Later in the thread, the party said that “according to the 2016 Annual Survey of School System Finances, U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia spends more tax dollars on public education than all but 13 other states and the District of Columbia.”

Is it accurate to say that West Virginia is in the top one-quarter of states for public school spending? We didn’t hear back from the state party, but we took a look at the original data.

The report in question is published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.

We first looked at raw dollars spent, listed in Table 3 in the report. Rather than ranking towards the top, West Virginia ranked 13th lowest in this category among the 50 states, with $3.1 billion. The states with smaller expenditures were, in alphabetical order, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Of course, there’s something that those 12 states below West Virginia share: They’re all small, and that is a major factor determining their low levels of spending.

So, to eliminate a state’s size as a factor shaping the data, we next turned at expenditures per pupil.

In the report’s Table 4, the report shows that West Virginia was right around the national average in spending per pupil — $11,424 in West Virginia, compared to $11,841 for the United States as a whole. We found 22 states that spent more per pupil than West Virginia, not 13, as the tweet said.

Finally, since the tweet used the wording “tax dollars,” we looked at the tax burden for revenues spent in each state on education. The data in the report’s Table 2, shows the amount of local, state and federal tax dollars that were raised in each state on a per-pupil basis.

By this measure, West Virginia raised $12,375 in tax revenues per pupil. In all, 28 states had higher figures, and the national average was $13,474.

Bottom line: None of these measurements supported the assertion in the tweet.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party said, “West Virginia spends more tax dollars on public education than all but 13 other states and the District of Columbia.”

Using the specific federal data source cited in the tweet, neither the revenue level nor the spending level in West Virginia had that ranking, either in raw dollars or per pupil. In fact, using per-pupil spending, West Virginia is right around the national average, rather than ranking in the top one-quarter of states.

We rate the statement False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Is Joe Manchin the Only Senator to Consistently Vote Against the Nuclear Option?

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In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/File

For decades, majority leaders in the U.S. Senate have threatened to use the “nuclear option” to change senators’ ability to filibuster, a maneuver that blocks bills from coming to a vote unless a supermajority of the chamber votes to proceed.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one member of the body who has fought to protect the status quo.

In a recent tweet, Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate. This move is a betrayal of the people we represent.”

We wondered whether Manchin was right that he had a uniquely consistent record on such votes. So we reached out to two experts in Senate procedure to see whether Manchin’s statement was accurate. (Manchin’s office did not respond to an inquiry.)

What is the nuclear option?

First, some background on the nuclear option.

As we’ve previously noted, there is a legend of uncertain veracity that says George Washington and Thomas Jefferson came to agree that the Senate should serve as a “saucer” to the House’s “tea cup” — a vessel for cooling the passions emanating from the House.

Whether the specifics of the tale hold up, the idea that the Senate is the slower, more cautious half of Congress has been the chamber’s reputation throughout its history. The Constitution delegates internal rule-setting to the Senate itself, and for much of its history, the chamber — unlike the House — did not implement any mechanism to maneuver around a member who was determined enough to block action through a filibuster.

In 1917, the Senate voted to empower a supermajority of two-thirds to cut off a filibuster and move on to other business by invoking a motion known as “cloture.” (Since the Senate had 96 members then, that meant 64 were needed to invoke cloture if all members were voting.) Then, in 1975, the Senate voted to lower the supermajority to its current number, 60 out of 100 members.

Still, 60 votes is a significant hurdle for a chamber that has not often had one party win that many seats. In recent years, the two parties have become more polarized, and more willing to filibuster, even on matters that had previously been treated as routine. That has put pressure on Senate leaders to get rid of the longstanding supermajority hurdle or else face gridlock — especially for such high-stakes topics as nominations.

Detractors have warned that such important matters were better dealt with using the higher degree of consensus conveyed through a 60-vote supermajority. But there is one tool available to a Senate leader willing to buck the chamber’s long standing tradition: the nuclear option.

The mechanics of the nuclear option (which has nothing to do with anything literally nuclear) are complex even by the standards of parliamentary maneuvers, requiring a precise series of carefully choreographed steps. Readers brave enough to tackle the details can refer to multi-page explanations in these two reports by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The gist, though, is that the majority party would move to change the supermajority rule through a series of votes that require only a simple majority.

Recent nuclear votes

Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, cited four key votes for the nuclear option. One came in 2013, when the Democrats were in control, one came in 2017, when Republicans were in control, and the final one came in 2019, when the Republicans were still in control.

In 2013, the Democratic leadership used the nuclear option to get rid of the filibuster for all nominations except Supreme Court appointments. Manchin voted against his own party, to keep the status quo.

In 2017, Republicans leaders called a vote to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Here, Manchin cast a vote to maintain the status quo, siding with Democrats against the Republican majority seeking to go nuclear.

Then, in 2019, Republican leaders offered two relevant votes. While they weren’t specifically about filibusters, they addressed delaying tactics that can advantage the minority.

One vote would shorten the debate time after cloture from 30 hours to 2 hours for district judges. The second would do the same for non-Cabinet executive appointments.

In both cases, Manchin voted to maintain the status quo.

In 2013, two fellow Democratic senators voted with Manchin and against their party’s leadership — then-Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Neither remains in the chamber.

And two Republicans who voted with Democrats in the 2019 votes had stuck with their own party in the 2017 vote, meaning that their voting record wasn’t “consistent” with the status quo in all cases.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate.”

Experts in Senate procedure tell PolitiFact that Manchin is correct, having voted in favor of the status quo — and against “nuclear option” efforts — in each of the four relevant votes between 2013 and 2019.

We rate this statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Have Exports from West Virginia Risen Faster than the U.S. as a Whole?

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Heavy equipment and trucks move coal in the Sun Coal Co. coal yard along the Kanawha River in Dickenson, W.Va., on Jan. 19, 2018. Photo: AP

Have West Virginia exports been on fire recently? A tweet by the West Virginia Republican Party suggests so.

In an April 2 tweet, the state party said, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

Did West Virginia really outpace the national average of export growth rates?

The tweet linked to a March 17 article in WVNews. In turn, the article cites a March 15 news release by the West Virginia Department of Commerce that reported data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Caitlin Ashley-Lizarraga, an international trade specialist at the West Virginia Department of Commerce, pointed us to detailed Census Bureau data collected by a private-sector subscription database, the Global Trade Atlas.

The table shows that West Virginia did indeed export $8.1 billion to the rest of the world in 2018, and that represented a 14.2% increase over the export total for 2017.

The increase for the nation as a whole was a little over half that — 7.6%.

We were able to replicate this data using the Census Bureau’s own USA Trade Onlinedata portal.

While the export growth in West Virginia was strong between 2017 and 2018, it’s worth noting that this expansion came from a small base.

In fact, West Virginia ranks thirteenth from the bottom in total exports for 2018. The states ranking below West Virginia are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party tweeted, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

The data, which we verified with a U.S. Census Bureau database, supports what the tweet said. We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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