The White House announced its support for H.R.467, otherwise known as the Halt Fentanyl Act, sponsored by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia.
On Thursday, the bill cleared a major hurdle by passing the House by a 289-133 vote.
According to the bill, it would place fentanyl into schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. A Schedule I controlled substance is a drug, substance, or chemical with a high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical value. The bill would also expedite research into fentanyl.
“These two provisions are critical components of the Biden-Harris Administration’s 2021 recommendations to Congress to combat the supply of illicit fentanyl-related substances (FRS) and save lives, including proposals to create a streamlined process for the Department of Health and Human Services to identify and remove or reschedule any individual FRS that is subsequently found to not have a high potential for abuse under the Controlled Substances Act and require a study of the impact of permanent FRS class-wide scheduling on research, civil rights, and the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of FRS,” the White House said.
Griffith is hopeful the bill will earn Senate approval.
“I am pleased the House has voted in favor of my critical legislation with Congressman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) to permanently schedule deadly fentanyl analogues, strengthening law enforcement’s ability to prosecute fentanyl traffickers. The bill also promotes research of fentanyl analogues in the hopes of finding medicinal uses. As drug overdose deaths reach historic levels in our country, the HALT Fentanyl Act offers a way to make progress amid the tragedy of addiction,” said Griffith.
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Despite the bipartisan support for the bill, not everyone is supportive. More than 150 groups sent a joint letter to congressional leaders encouraging them to vote against the bill. They say the rescheduling of fentanyl is a “radical departure" from drug scheduling practices. They also say it places undue restrictions on research.
Because of the rescheduling of fentanyl, it would also enshrine a mandatory minimum sentence for the distribution of fentanyl.
“Our country is repeating past missteps when it comes to policy responses to fentanyl and its analogues,” the groups wrote. “In the 1980s, policymakers enacted severe mandatory minimums for small amounts of crack cocaine in response to media headlines and law enforcement warnings that perpetuated mythology and fear. These laws imposed harsher penalties for crack — a substance associated with Black people — than for cocaine — a substance associated with white people — even though the two substances are chemically similar. In the ensuing decades, people of color have been disproportionately incarcerated and sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences for small amounts of crack. The emergence of fentanyl-related substances in recent years has fueled similar waves of alarmist media and law enforcement headlines that are informed by mythology rather than science.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. The CDC notes that fentanyl has quickly become one of the leading causes of drug overdose deaths.
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