Congress Must Empower Law Enforcement to End the Fentanyl Epidemic

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

This week, an 18-year-old college-bound wrestler died of a suspected fentanyl overdose at his home in California. Last week, an 11-year-old overdosed on fentanyl-laced marijuana in Louisiana. In May, two 17-year-olds died from fentanyl overdoses at Fayette Ware Comprehensive High School in Tennessee, just hours before the school’s graduation ceremony. 

“Fentanyl is killing all of our kids, it’s affecting all of our families,” California’s Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said. “It doesn’t discriminate by race, color, religion – it’s affecting everybody.”

As Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram confirmed, “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.” In 2022, more than 109,000 people died from drug overdoses, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, the majority of which are linked to synthetic opioids. This staggering figure emphasizes the prevalence of fentanyl in the drug supply as overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 for the second year in a row – and for the second time on record. Further, for 18- to 49-year-old Americans, fentanyl poisoning is the leading cause of death, surpassing heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide, and other accidents. 

But these are more than just facts and figures – behind these numbers are daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers.

As I wrote in November 2021, “Unless we stop the flow of these deadly drugs into the United States and provide law enforcement and first responders with the necessary tools and resources to combat this crisis, lives will continue to be tragically lost.”

While fentanyl precursors primarily come from China, the illicit deadly products are most commonly manufactured by Mexican drug cartels, smuggled across the U.S. southern border and distributed to American communities.

The DEA classifies drugs into five categories, known as schedules, with Schedule I substances defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” 

Last month, Bloomberg Law reported, “Classification of fentanyl as a Schedule I drug is the biggest measure to help address the synthetic opioid crisis in the US.”

Reporting on a June 21 House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing, Bloomberg Law also reported, “Scheduling fentanyl would give the DEA authority to infiltrate and prevent the trafficking of the substance, ensuring it doesn’t cross borders and fall into the hands of violent street gangs.”

Currently, various fentanyl-related substances are temporarily classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, but there are numerous pieces of legislation in Congress that would make the temporary scheduling order permanent.

In March, Sens. Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham introduced the Protecting Americans from Fentanyl Trafficking Act. And last week, Congressman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) introduced its companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HALT Fentanyl Act, and the bill was received in the Senate.

As President Joe Biden fails to address the fentanyl crisis plaguing communities across the United States, Congress must enact legislation that gives law enforcement the tools it needs to protect all Americans.