Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans led by Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), are calling on the committee’s chairman, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to convene a hearing to evaluate the Administration’s strategy to curb fentanyl overdoses. A temporary authority banning synthetic fentanyl analogues, which has proven effective in reducing importation, is slated to expire in October.
“Scheduling fentanyl analogues has historically been a bipartisan issue, enjoying support and engagement from both chambers of Congress and multiple agencies in the federal government,” the senators wrote.
“As the committee of jurisdiction over drug control, we owe it to the American people and the thousands of victims of drug abuse and overdose to hold a candid and deliberative hearing on the best path forward to stopping the spread of deadly fentanyl related substances.”
Overdose deaths have skyrocketed to record levels during the pandemic. A majority of the 93,000 overdose deaths last year were linked to synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. As co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Grassley helped convene a July hearing on the federal government’s response to the overdose epidemic and penned a recent op-ed with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the need to address rising opioid overdoses. He introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to help laws keep pace with rapidly evolving synthetics.
Along with Grassley, today’s letter was cosigned by senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Kennedy (R-La.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Full text of today’s letter follows:
Dear Chairman Durbin:
The countdown is on. As of today, there are 58 days until the critical and life-saving authority placing all fentanyl related substances in Schedule I expires. Controlling fentanyl analogues is urgent and necessary. As know you, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a staggering 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, the majority of which were due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. No corner of the country is immune to fentanyl’s impact. In fact, your home state of Illinois has suffered a 27.3% increase in overdose deaths over the past year, with fentanyl-involved overdoses on the rise.
Scheduling fentanyl analogues has historically been a bipartisan issue, enjoying support and engagement from both chambers of Congress and multiple agencies in the federal government. The Biden Administration supports a solution to deal with fentanyl and its analogues. For instance, Attorney General Garland, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated, “illicitly sold fentanyl analogues have caused senseless fatalities,” and that “stopping fentanyl and synthetic opioids from flooding our communities should be a high priority for the Department of Justice.” Additionally, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Acting Director LaBelle has stated in multiple congressional hearings that fentanyl analogues are dangerous, that they are working towards a solution to schedule fentanyl substances, and that a legislative proposal on the issue is anticipated to be shared with Congress as soon as August.
As you know, Congress passed H.R. 2630 earlier this year, which extends DEA’s emergency scheduling order placing fentanyl substances in schedule I to October 22, 2021. This extension is a necessary stopgap measure to maintain control over fentanyl analogues while contemplating options on how to permanently schedule them. The ONDCP is spearheading a federal interagency working group to draft a comprehensive solution. We are interested in engaging in this process with ONDCP and the larger interagency working group sooner rather than later to ensure that the proposal adequately protects public safety and addresses this dire problem.
It is in the spirit of transparency and bipartisanship that we respectfully request a full-committee consensus hearing after the August recess comprised of members of the interagency working group to review, evaluate, and discuss the legislative proposal from the Administration on scheduling fentanyl related substances. Based on sworn testimony by multiple Biden Administration officials, we have no reason to believe that the interagency working group will not provide Congress with a proposed solution. Granted, the details of this proposal are largely unknown, including essential details, such as if it will recommend permanently placing fentanyl related substances in Schedule I or reducing the appropriately serious criminal penalties that deter criminals from distributing fentanyl. But even if the interagency working group fails to share draft proposals with congressional leaders, or if the proposal falls short, we still urge the committee to convene a hearing on how Congress should work to schedule these deadly substances. Any legislation moving through committee or on the floor of the Senate on such an important issue deserves the review and scrutiny of relevant committee members.
As the committee of jurisdiction over drug control, we owe it to the American people and the thousands of victims of drug abuse and overdose to hold a candid and deliberative hearing on the best path forward to stopping the spread of deadly fentanyl related substances. We look forward to hearing back from you about our request and hope to work with your office on a permanent solution on fentanyl related substances.