(UnitedVoice.com) – The opioid crisis has ravaged America. It has touched every corner in every community of the country. From April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from overdoses. Roughly 64,000 of those who died had ingested fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
House Republicans recently put forward legislation that would permanently reclassify fentanyl. However, Democrats did not join their GOP colleagues.
In 2018, former President Donald Trump’s administration temporarily reclassified fentanyl as a Schedule I narcotic with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). A notice from the Administrator of the DEA posted on the Federal Registry stated that any “fentanyl-related substances that are currently listed in any schedule of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)” would be impacted. The decision was “necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety.”
The original order was effective from February 6, 2018, to February 6, 2020. Since then, it has been repeatedly extended. Reclassifying the drug meant people arrested for crimes related to the substance have increased penalties.
Struggles to Permanently Reclassify
Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) introduced the HALT Fentanyl Act (HR 467) in January. The legislation would have permanently rescheduled all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I narcotics. Additionally, it would have allowed more researchers to conduct studies on the substances. In a statement when the legislation was introduced, Griffith said the bill “offers a way to make progress amid” record opioid deaths.
On March 8, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted on whether to allow the legislation to move forward. While the subcommittee approved the legislation in a vote of 17 to 10, every single Democrat voted against the bill, except for Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN).
Democrats have argued that permanently reclassifying the drug to increase penalties is the wrong route. A number of organizations are also against the reclassification. In March, Human Rights Watch published a letter from public health and criminal justice reform organizations urging lawmakers to vote no on the reclassification.
The organizations argued the reclassification is wrong because it isn’t based on a full understanding of the science, and it could impact substances that have a therapeutic value. Additionally, Democrats and the groups believe criminalizing the opioid epidemic is not going to tackle the root cause of the problem while also potentially creating punishments for possibly harmless substances.
Democratic lawmakers believe that fentanyl-related substances that do not lead to serious bodily harm or death shouldn’t carry mandatory minimum sentences.
Latta wasn’t buying it. He called the drugs “weapons of mass destruction” that need to be policed.
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