Senator Rob Portman explains below his call on Congress to take swift action to permanently schedule illicitly manufactured and deadly fentanyl analogues amid a surging epidemic of drug overdoses.
Since 2018, this dangerous class of drugs has been labelled as Schedule I substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to allow federal law enforcement authorities to bring criminal actions against individuals who manufacture, distribute, or handle fentanyl-related substances. However, this scheduling order was only temporary, and will expire after May 6, 2021 – only 16 days from now.
In response to this looming deadline, Senator Portman introduced the bipartisan Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting (FIGHT) Fentanyl Act with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to make these dangerous substances permanently illegal. The FIGHT Fentanyl Act is the only bipartisan fentanyl analogue scheduling bill in the Senate, and was written to address concerns from the criminal justice community as well as law enforcement officials.
Here are three reasons why it is critical Congress pass the FIGHT Fentanyl Act before the looming deadline:
1. Fentanyl analogues are highly deadly and helping drive the overdose surge:
After hopeful progress as recently as 2018, when nationwide overdoses declined for the first time since 1990, overdoses have surged to record highs during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 87,000 individuals dying due to drug-related overdoses between September 2019 and September 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), synthetic opioids like fentanyl analogues are one of the biggest drivers of this tragic surge. Fentanyl is 50 times deadlier than heroin, and fentanyl analogues like carfentanil are even more lethal. Allowing these substances to flow freely in communities will only worsen this crisis.
2. Law enforcement needs certainty:
Federal law enforcement officials in the DEA used the temporary scheduling order on fentanyl analogues over the last four years to aggressively pursue these dangerous substances, intercepting a total of 3,138 kg of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 2019, enough to kill at least 1.57 billion people. Uncertainty over the legality of these substances puts law enforcement at a disadvantage and gives cartels the upper hand, providing an incentive to continue to circumvent the law to create new deadly fentanyl analogues that are no longer scheduled. It also sends the signal that the U.S. government is not serious about cracking down on this issue.
3. Other countries, including China, have already implemented strict control over fentanyl analogues:
While the United States relies on a temporary scheduling order to defend against the threat of fentanyl analogues, other countries, including China, have recognized the inherent threat posed by these substances and implemented class-wide controls. The United States must join the international community in recognizing the threat posed by this entire class of synthetic opioids. China implemented class-wide controls over fentanyl analogues in May 1, 2019. China’s law defines fentanyl related substances more broadly than the U.S. government defines fentanyl-related substances. Why are we willing to allow deadly drugs into the country that are illegal in China?