The Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Permanently ban fentanyl-related drugs
Washington, February 19, 2020
Steve Chabot, Opinion contributor
In recent years, opioid addiction has claimed tens of thousands of American lives and shattered families across our nation. That’s why we must work together to redouble our efforts to combat this deadly epidemic.
Opioids, when used properly, can be an effective medical tool for pain relief. However, when opioids are abused, they’re extremely dangerous. While fatalities from prescription opioids have been declining over the last few years, fatalities from other forms of opioids, such as fentanyl, have been increasing at an alarming rate.
In searching for answers to this plague, I’ve worked with local and national drug experts. I’ve also worked with local law enforcement, medical personnel and community leaders and discussed with them the tools they need to effectively fight this battle. And as a member of the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues from across the country focused on finding legislative solutions to this ongoing problem.
Given the complex nature of the epidemic, we need to fight a two-front war on opioids – both to reduce the supply and to eliminate the demand.
To help reduce the demand, Congress passed two major bills – the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act signed into law by President Obama and President Trump respectively. Those laws largely focused on increasing public awareness and education regarding the dangers of opioids, and supporting innovative drug treatment and prevention programs. They also included efforts to reduce the supply of illegal opioids, but that’s an increasingly complex issue.
Recently, there’s been a massive influx into the country of cheap but incredibly powerful opioids, such as fentanyl, from China and other foreign sources. A lot of these illegal drugs enter via our southern border, so securing that border is critical.
Giving law enforcement the tools they need to combat these dangerous drugs is just as important. A drug as deadly as fentanyl has no place in our communities. It’s at least 50 times more potent than heroin, and ingesting even a minuscule amount can be fatal.
That’s why, under current law, fentanyl is a controlled substance, just like cocaine, heroin or LSD. That means it’s illegal to possess, distribute or manufacture fentanyl, and doing so carries stiff penalties. However, to avoid those penalties, drug traffickers have routinely altered the chemical composition of fentanyl, making it a slightly different drug. These fentanyl analogs are just as dangerous and deadly as the original drug, yet they’re treated differently under the law, because they have a chemical structure that differs slightly from the banned substance.
A few years ago, Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recognized this inconsistency, and criminalized fentanyl analogs on a temporary basis. That classification was set to expire earlier this month, but Congress extended the ban for an additional 15 months. However, that’s not enough. Fentanyl analogs should be banned permanently.
That’s why I introduced legislation, H.R. 5771, the FIGHT Fentanyl Act, along with fellow Ohio Congressman Bob Latta. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by our Senator Rob Portman and West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin. Our legislation would permanently criminalize the manufacture, distribution or possession of fentanyl analogs.
China, a major source of fentanyl in our country, has banned fentanyl-related drugs. And we should too. We need to give the DEA the permanent authorization to use all the tools and resources at their disposal to keep fentanyl and its analogs out of our communities.
Congress doesn’t need to spend more time deciding if fentanyl analogs are dangerous. We know they’re more than just dangerous, they’re deadly, and should be kept off our streets and out of our neighborhoods. Now is the time to make the criminalization of fentanyl analogs permanent. Too many lives and families have been ruined by the scourge of this deadly drug for Congress to continue passing temporary, incomplete measures.
Congressman Steve Chabot represents Ohio’s 1st District in the United States House of Representatives and is the ranking member of the House Committee on Small Business.Click here to read on The Cincinnati Enquirer's website.