A pair of Republicans in the House and Senate on Thursday called for Attorney General Merrick Garland to explain if the Biden administration supports extending a temporary ban on fentanyl knockoffs that could jeopardize thousands of opioid prosecutions if it expires.
In a letter obtained by The Washington Times, Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, urged Mr. Garland to brief lawmakers on where the Justice Department stands on the issue.
In 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a temporary order classifying fentanyl knockoffs as a controlled substance. The move closed a legal loophole that allowed the drugs to dodge federal law if their chemical makeup was slightly different than fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid more than 100 times stronger than morphine. Its analogs can be more potent. In 2020, several states reported more than a 50 percent increase in deaths linked to fentanyl and its analogs.
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 2018 order was set to expire last year, but Congress extended it by 15 months so the ban now runs through May 6, 2021. If it does expire without a plan to create a permanent ban, law enforcement and prosecutors would be in unchartered territory and thousands of cases could be dropped.
That’s why Mr. Jordan and Mr. Grassley said it is imperative the Biden administration work to extend the ban.
“The expiration of the scheduling authority would have devastating effects,” they wrote. “For instance, it would mean all drugs seized by U.S. investigators that have tested positive as illicit fentanyl analogues would no longer be illegal under federal law.”
“Our nationwide efforts to prosecute traffickers and criminals pushing these dangerous drugs in American communities would be severely undercut,” the letter continues.
The lawmakers have asked Mr. Biden to brief them on how an expiration could impact the opioid crisis and how the ban has helped the DEA enforce crime.
“The goal of decreasing overdose deaths — particularly by lethal fentanyl-related substances — should be collaborative and not impacted by political affiliation,” the letter states.
Former President Trump’s Justice Department repeatedly pushed Congress to extend the ban, saying drug traffickers would have the upper hand if it expires.
There is some opposition to extending the ban on fentanyl knockoffs from left-leaning civil rights groups.
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.
Last year, the group sent a letter to Congress asking that any permanent ban should be accompanied by the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for cases prosecuted under it.