PolitiFact roundup: Fentanyl deaths and tax cut effects

  • PolitiFact
  • For the AJC
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 Nation & World
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., shown here at a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in September, wants a crackdown on fentanyl coming into the country illegally. (Ron Sachs/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)

PolitiFact recently checked out claims including two related to the just-passed federal tax overhaul and one about overdose deaths linked to the opioid fentanyl. Here are summaries of our findings. Full versions can be found at www.politifact.com.

“Fentanyl is now killing more Americans than heroin or any other opioid.”

— Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 in a press release

The number of opioid overdose deaths has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, but is fentanyl now the leading cause,as McCaskill said?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic, or man-made, opioid sold legally as a pharmaceutical drug to treat pain. It is also illegally made and is increasingly used to intensify the “high” users get from other drugs, such as heroin. Most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and death have been linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Heroin is a highly addictive illegal opioid synthesized from morphine that is typically injected but also smoked and snorted.

The CDC reported a total of 20,145 overdose deaths, up from 9,445 in 2015, which means the number of overdoses related to synthetic opioids excluding methadone more than doubled between 2016 and 2017.

But CDC spokeswoman Courtney Lenard said the synthetic opioids category isn’t exclusive to fentanyl. She gave an example as prescription pain reliever tramadol, which isn’t fentanyl-based.

In other words, fentanyl and fentanyl analogs are a subset of synthetic opioids. “Fentanyl deaths cannot be separated out,” Lenard said.

Our ruling

The CDC says illegally manufactured fentanyl is primarily responsible for the increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids in 10 states. But fentanyl and fentanyl analogs aren’t the only synthetic opioids claiming lives. There is no breakdown of fentanyl from the larger synthetic category number.

We rate this claim Half True.

In April, “the vast majority will be (filling out their taxes) on a single postcard.”

— Ivanka Trump on Thursday, December 21st, 2017 in an interview on “Fox & Friends”

There are two problems with what Trump said. We’ll take them in order.

The bill’s provisions won’t be taking effect in time for the April 2018 filing season. Nothing in the tax bill would take effect soon enough to change taxpayers’ filing choices in any significant way by April 2018.

There isn’t a postcard filing option today, and nothing in the bill would create one.

Our ruling

The recently passed bill takes effect for the 2018 tax year, for which people will be filing returns in 2019, not this coming April. And there is no plan for a postcard filing option. Simple filing options already exist and are widely used, but tax experts do not expect a surge in their use as a result of the tax bill in April 2019. We rate her statement False.

“The truth is this tax (plan) raises middle-class taxes.”

— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on Friday, December 15th, 2017 in Buffalo

Research groups across the political spectrum agree that the middle class will benefit from provisions in the tax law — at least at first.

The standard deduction will double to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filers. More filers will come out ahead using the standard deduction instead of itemizing state and local taxes.

A majority of middle-income filers already take the standard deduction instead of itemizing. About 44 percent of those making between $50,000 and $75,000 deduct state and local taxes in New York state, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Our ruling

Gillibrand’s contention that the Republican tax plan “raises middle-class taxes” is not true during the first years of the new tax provisions. If not for the sunset for the tax changes for individuals, we likely would have rated Gillibrand’s statement False or perhaps Mostly False. Middle-income taxpayers will either benefit or see no change in their tax liability through 2025.

But her claim could hold up after the bill’s individual provisions expire that year. There’s no guarantee a future Congress will extend those parts of the bill.

So for that reason, her statement is partially true but still ignores important details. We rate it Half True.