Two Republican lawmakers say the Biden administration is sluggish in addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans over the past two decades.
Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan on Thursday sent a letter to top White House officials lambasting their efforts.
“At a time when overdoses in America are surging, the Biden-Harris administration has been slow to engage on this crisis,” they said.
They pointed to an NPR article from July citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provisional data that show more than 93,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses last year. The overdose death toll is a nearly 30% jump from 2019 and the nation’s highest increase since at least 1999.
The lawmakers also raised questions about the administration’s recent legislative proposal for making permanent the temporary Schedule I classification of fentanyl-related substances. The classification means the substances have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Some examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, marijuana and LSD. Trafficking or unlawful distribution of the drugs come with the highest federal penalties.
“While we support permanent scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, other aspects of the administration’s proposal would shield drug traffickers from pushing poisonous drugs into our communities rather than hold them accountable by imposing existing penalties,” they said.
The lawmakers take issue with recommendations to eliminate mandatory penalties for fentanyl-related substance offenses and to allow federal courts to vacate or reduce offenders’ sentences if the substance is later rescheduled.
They worry it “would hinder prosecutorial efforts against serious drug traffickers, and could even incentivize sophisticated criminal organizations to import and traffic fentanyl-related substances.”
To better understand the proposal, the legislators asked for information on who helped draft it and details on why the administration supports the “dramatic shift” in policy on mandatory minimum penalties.
The letter comes as the temporary emergency scheduling of fentanyl-related substances is set to expire Oct. 22.
It was sent to Regina LaBelle, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Anne Milgram, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.