(The Center Square) – A bipartisan effort in Congress to fight back against the fentanyl crisis will do little to address the root cause of the issue, namely illegal smuggling at the southern border, critics of the effort contend.
The U.S. Senate will now consider the Halt Lethal Trafficking (HALT) Fentanyl Act, an anti-fentanyl bill with a counterpart that passed out of the House Wednesday, as the death toll from the deadly drug continues to climb.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the HALT Fentanyl Act with bipartisan support, 289-133, though many Democrats opposed it. The legislation would extend the drug’s emergency class-wide scheduling order, making it permanent.
“We must get these poisons out of our communities,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky. “This bill would permanently ban fentanyl analogues and ensure that many of these poisons do not become street legal.”
Proponents of the bill tout that the legislation would protect law enforcement’s authority to continue to treat the drug as a top priority and will allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to continue to seize the substance at the border.
President Joe Biden’s critics have hammered him on this issue, pointing to the southern border, which has fallen into chaos and is the main vehicle by which drug cartels import fentanyl into the U.S. Those cartels, known for their violence and other illicit practices like human trafficking, make tens of billions of dollars annually by trafficking drugs across the U.S. border.
“The real problem is not whether fentanyl analogues should be illegal,” the Heritage Foundation's Paul Larkin told The Center Square. “Those drugs are already illegal, just not under the Controlled Substances Act, but under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which also applies here. The DEA can list everything that is not the original fentanyl as illicit until it is approved by the FDA.”
Larkin laid the blame at the feet of the Biden administration’s lax border policies.
“The real problem is not that the DEA can't seize fentanyl analogues or that DOJ cannot prosecute analogue cases,” he added. “The problem is that the Biden Administration won't stop fentanyl from crossing the Southwest Border.”
Fentanyl's presence has exploded in the U.S. since Biden took office and overdose deaths along with it.
CBP says the amount of fentanyl they have confiscated at the southern border tripled from 2020 to 2022, up to nearly 15,000 pounds of the powerful drug. Fentanyl is far more dangerous even in much smaller doses than other drugs. Cartels add small amounts of fentanyl to an array of recreational drugs, leading to countless accidental overdoses that many label as poisonings.
Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine. Federal data shows that a record number of people died from drug overdoses in 2022, nearly 110,000, driven in large part by the spike in fentanyl. U.S. overdose deaths rose about 30% in 2020 and about 17% in 2021.
“As so many of my colleagues today have said, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for individuals 18-49, surpassing COVID, cancer, heart disease, and even car accidents,” U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said from the House floor. “In fact, Biden’s DEA, y'all's DEA, says this is their number one priority.”
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