April 13, 2021

Grassley: The Clock is Ticking to Address the Fentanyl Crisis

Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
The Clock is Ticking to Address the Fentanyl Crisis
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
 
I pose the following question to my fellow Senators: If a deadly poison was killing thousands of Americans each year, what would you do? Would you work to find the solution to prevent these deaths? Or would you choose to be complacent, reactive and allow your fellow citizens to die?
 
If all levels of law enforcement were pleading for action to prevent future fatalities, would you heed their warnings? Or would you roll the dice with lives on the line?
 
I know I would seek to be proactive.
 
I’m here today to call attention to the dire need for Congress to schedule fentanyl related substances before it’s too late. Without hyperbole or theatrics, such action could save the lives of thousands of Americans.
 
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is about 30 times more potent than heroin. While dangerous and deadly, fentanyl has some medically recognized qualities, often for pain management.
 
However, fentanyl abuse has become more common and dangerous in recent years because of the increase in fentanyl analogues. These analogues are chemically similar to fentanyl, but many are more powerful and deadly.
 
Much of the illicitly manufactured fentanyl that is responsible for American overdose deaths originated in China.
 
Unfortunately, these deadly drugs aren’t permanently controlled in the United States. As such, fentanyl analogues aren’t on the same footing as other dangerous substances like heroin, LSD, ecstasy or cocaine. And drug dealers know this. They can skirt the law by manipulating the structure of fentanyl so that it isn’t technically covered by existing law. But that doesn’t make it any less potent.
 
The results are lethal.
 
The Centers for Disease Control states that more than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids – like fentanyl – in 2019. Nearly 50,000 overdose deaths are projected for 2020.
 
As-is, the law can’t keep up with the rapidly evolving drug trends. The Attorney General can outlaw new variations of a drug on an ad hoc basis, but this process can take years. By the time an analogue is added to the schedule, drug traffickers are already out with one or more other variations.  Simply put, the law can’t keep up with the rapid pace of illicit drug producers and traffickers. This is particularly problematic for fentanyl analogue enforcement.
 
How can we address this seemingly endless cycle? How can we ensure that those suffering from substance use disorders aren’t killed at the hands of greedy drug dealers?
 
The answer is to stop fentanyl analogues from being available in the first place. We must prevent it from entering our country and being peddled by criminals.
 
On February 6, 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration published a temporary order placing all fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I. Congress subsequently extended this authority until May 6, 2021.
 
We have 23 days until this authority expires. Congress must act to extend this scheduling order. If we do not, we will face a surge of rapidly-emerging fentanyl drugs.
 
The Justice Department has made clear that this class-wide scheduling order has made a difference in Chinese fentanyl entering our country.
 
China has agreed to match U.S. policy targeting synthetic fentanyl. But if we lose the authority to rapidly detect and outlaw fentanyl analogues, we lose any footing we have with the Chinese government in preventing fentanyl from entering our country.
 
This scheduling order saves lives because China reciprocates it. Their motive in scheduling fentanyl analogues isn’t altruistic; it’s because we’re doing it. So, if we stop, they stop. And if that happens, fentanyl analogues will surely flood our communities. We can prevent this. So we must.
 
With the ongoing increase in overdose deaths, we must continue to support efforts to curb fentanyl abuse. This means that we must extend this class-wide scheduling order.
 
This isn’t a political or partisan issue. Senators from both sides of the aisle support efforts to schedule fentanyl substances.
 
Members of the Biden administration have also indicated that addressing fentanyl is urgent.
 
In fact, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Garland stated that the constantly evolving nature of fentanyl analogues is “a problem both for detection as well as . . . enforcement,” and that he is “in favor of doing something either by scheduling or legislation” to proactively address the problem of fentanyl-related substances.
 
Likewise, both law enforcement and substance abuse prevention groups believe Congress must act in scheduling fentanyl.
 
It’s up to Congress to pass legislation to extend the fentanyl scheduling order.
 

I urge all my colleagues to join me in the fight against fentanyl. In the midst of an opioid epidemic, polydrug crisis and COVID-19 pandemic, how can we allow for any additional death and destruction? The clock is ticking.