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Opioid Drugs

Temporary Fentanyl Variant Ban Extended by the DEA

— February 24, 2020

The federal government extends a ban on fentanyl lookalikes.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill temporarily extending the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) class-wide ban on all variants of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.  The legislation falls short of what the U.S. Justice Department had hoped to get from Congress.  It had pushed for a permanent class-wide ban first initiated by the DEA in February 2018.  Criminal justice reform groups and researchers led the Senate to put off a permanent solution by passing legislation that would temporarily extend the DEA’s for another fifteen months.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 41% of the 70,200 drug overdoses in the United States in 2017 were caused by fentanyl and illicit chemical copycats, which is 100 times more potent than morphine.  The DEA’s temporary emergency order in February 2018 temporarily classified all fentanyl analogues as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning they are highly addictive without a legitimate medical use.  When prescribed by physicians, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it is “highly addictive but has a medicinal purpose.”  Placing illicit fentanyl analogues in Schedule 1 would classify these drugs with street alternatives, such as heroin.

Temporary Fentanyl Variant Ban Extended by the DEA
Photo by Creedi Zhong on Unsplash

Now federal legislators are awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature on the bill.  And, Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Steve Weinhoeft is urging Congress to make the ban permanent.  He has seen too many overdoses in the state.  “Fentanyl is a serial killer drug,” he said. “The DEA continues to intercept variations of it being illicitly imported into the United States and distributed by criminal networks, causing overdose deaths across the country, including here in Southern Illinois.  I urge Congress to extend the ban on fentanyl analogues so law enforcement will have the tools we need to keep our communities safe.”

Weinhoeft added, “We see those same trends continuing here in the Southern District of Illinois.  Last month, the Madison County coroner reported that more of the drug overdose deaths his office reviewed in 2019 involved fentanyl.  The stories of local families impacted by those deaths are heartbreaking.”   He continued, “We increasingly find it manufactured illegally in China and Mexico, trafficked by cartels into the United States and sold on the streets at great societal costs.  Because federal law identifies and regulates dangerous drugs according to their chemical properties, the ever-changing permutation of these fentanyl analogues pose a significant problem.  If a particular chemical compound is not listed on the schedule of controlled substances, law enforcement is powerless to take action against it.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham also said previously he is “very sympathetic” to the idea of new legislation and declared that fentanyl is a “drug of mass destruction.”  He said, “We need to make sure that next year Congress acts, and we keep sending the right signal.”

Senator Dick Durbin also criticized the DEA for historically allowing pharmaceutical companies to manufacturer large amounts of addictive opioid drugs, saying a ban should have been put into place much earlier.  “It is time to say no – just say no to pharma when it comes to production,” he said.


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