- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Drug Enforcement Administration is ramping up efforts to prevent the import of synthetic opioids into the United States, with officials announcing their intention Thursday to classify fentanyl-related substances as illegal controlled substances.

Under a temporary emergency scheduling classification proposed by the DEA, substances chemically related to the powerful drug fentanyl will be classified as Schedule 1 drugs and deemed illegal. The classification would last for two years, with the potential for renewal, but the classification could help stem the wave of dangerous drugs shipped into the United States from overseas.

“By scheduling all fentanyls, we empower our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to take swift and necessary action against those spreading these deadly poisons,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an announcement of the DEA’s plan.

Currently eight fentanyl-related synthetic opioids are temporarily classified as Schedule 1 drugs, alongside heroin and marijuana, and meaning they have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses.

But law enforcement officials say chemists who manufacture the drugs regularly alter their chemical compounds in order to create substances that are not explicitly banned — and they say ensuing that laws keep up with the ever-changing chemical compound is like playing a game of “whack-a-mole.”

By taking action to temporarily ban an entire class of fentanyl-related drugs, authorities hope they will be able to more quickly prosecute individuals caught possessing, importing or manufacturing the drugs.

Prosecutors are currently able to bring charges against people caught with fentanyl-related drugs under the Analogue Act, but the process often takes much longer and can be more difficult to prove in court. Under the classification sought by the DEA, all substances that share a basic chemical makeup as fentanyl would be illegal.

The powerful drug fentanyl and related synthetic drugs have been blamed for thousands of fatal overdoses across the Untied States in recent years. Fentanyl is considered to be up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Use of the drug has increased alongside heroin use and overdoses

Since July 2016, DEA drug labs received more than 10,000 drug submissions for testing that were fentanyl-related drugs, said DEA officials who briefed reporters on the announcement Thursday.

“Today’s action represents just one step in the ongoing fight to battle the opioid epidemic,” said DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson.

The temporary classification plan will be submitted later this month and is set to take place 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register. A DEA official said the goal is to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to permanently ban the fentanyl-related substances.

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