Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen on Monday warned that House Democrats are risking American lives if they don’t hurry up in extending a ban on knockoffs of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The extended ban, which was passed unanimously in the Senate, would expire Feb. 6 if the House doesn’t act.
“Traffickers of deadly opioids will again have the upper hand,” Mr. Rosen said. “This cannot be allowed to happen. The House of Representatives needs to act to help save Americans from more overdose and deaths.”
The Sentencing Project, a think tank dedicated to reducing prison sentences for low-level drug offenders, said an extended ban would reverse the bipartisan progress made on sentencing reform in the past year.
In a letter sent Monday to House leaders of both parties, the group said any permanent ban should be accompanied by the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for cases prosecuted under it.
“We remain convinced that granting the Drug Enforcement Administration class-wide scheduling authority for fentanyl analogues will exacerbate already disturbing trends in federal drug prosecutions and incarceration levels and excise public health authorities from their critical role in promulgating drug policy,” the group wrote.
In February 2018, Congress approved a two-year temporary emergency ban designating all “fentanyl-like” substances as Schedule 1 narcotics, putting them in the same class as other dangerous drugs such as heroin and Ecstasy.
Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin. The lab-made knockoffs could be even stronger.
The ban reduced the nation’s supply of fentanyl-related substances by 50%. Fentanyl and its knockoffs killed more than 1,000 people every two weeks in 2017, according to Justice Department statistics.
The Washington Times this week reported that Republican lawmakers have accused Democratic leaders, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, of ignoring the fentanyl ban in favor of focusing on President Trump’s impeachment trial.
“Chairman Nadler and Speaker Pelosi have been so consumed with impeachment, they’ve failed to do their job. While Democrats are playing politics, the ban on a deadly drug hangs in the balance,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee told the Times.
“Failing to extend the ban of this dangerous drug will put countless lives at risk, which is why Congress must act now. I’m calling on Chairman Nadler and Speaker Pelosi to bring this bill to the floor for a vote immediately,” he said.
The House is scheduled to hold a hearing on the ban Tuesday. Amanda Liskamm, director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts for the Justice Department, is among those scheduled to testify.
Substances similar to fentanyl were classified as Schedule II drugs, meaning they are highly addictive but have a legitimate medical purpose. By classifying them as a Schedule I drug, the government is saying the knock-offs have no medicinal use.
The knockoffs, known as analogues, have a similar chemical structure and similar physical effects. Chemists have been making slight changes to the substances to skirt the Drug Enforcement Administration’s scheduling regime.