WASHINGTON, D.C.–The House approved the HALT Fentanyl Act Thursday, but it still has to go to the Senate next. If passed into law, it would permanently move fentanyl-related substances into the highest classification of illegal drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.
That highest level of classification is called “Schedule I.” Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no accepted medical use and have a potential for abuse and come with stricter criminal penalties for offenses. While fentanyl is a Schedule II drug, fentanyl-related substances have been classified under Schedule I since 2018, but the scheduling is temporary and will expire on Dec. 31, 2024. Indiana Republican Congressman Larry Bucshon is urging lawmakers not to let that happen.
“Just because people use illicit drugs, it doesn’t mean they deserve to die from it. In 2022, roughly 75,000 Americans died from poisoning by synthetic opioids – largely illicit fentanyl or fentanyl related substances. Illicit fentanyl poisonings are now the number one cause of death among adults 18-49, as has been pointed out many times,” said Bucshon Wednesday on the House floor.
It would also establish mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug distribution of fentanyl without parole and create a special registration process for researchers to conduct studies on these substances for potential medical use.
Bucshon reminded everyone that people who have died from illicit fentanyl poisoning are not just statistics.
“They are someone’s child, sibling, parent, family member, or close friend. And it’s happening in every community across America. Just last week, a federal grand jury indicted a man in Evansville, Indiana – my hometown – for selling counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl over social media that caused at least three poisonings and the death of a 19-year-old woman in 2022,” said Bucshon.
Those who oppose the HALT Fentanyl Act say this is another iteration of the drug war’s ineffective and punitive strategies. Earlier this week, more than 150 organizations sent Congress a letter saying the legislation is flawed and it puts “the focus on harm reduction services and substance use disorder treatment.”
Many Democrats have argued that the penalties the bill imposes for producing and selling fentanyl would fall unfairly on minorities.
House Republicans who proposed the bill argue that if the scheduling order expires, fentanyl-related substances will become street-legal, law enforcement will lose certain seizure authorities and drug traffickers will feel empowered to push the drugs.
President Biden has supported the bill.
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