GILLETTE, Wyo. — Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill has joined 22 other states’ attorneys general in urging the Senate to pass a bill to permanently deem fentanyl analogues as Schedule I controlled substances.
The “Halt All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl Act” bill, H.R. 467, would automatically and permanently make all substances that are structurally related to fentanyl a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s summary of the bill. When a drug is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, it’s deemed to have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical value. Some fentanyl-related substances are listed as Schedule I. Others are only Schedule I until 2025. Fentanyl would remain a Schedule II drug.
“Under current law, certain drugs that are not explicitly designated as controlled substances can be subject to CSA requirements,” the Congressional Budget Office’s summary said. “To proceed with criminal cases, however, prosecutors must prove that such drugs meet specific criteria related to chemical structure and psychoactive effects. By placing all FRS in Schedule I, H.R. 467 would lower the burden of proof in certain cases, thus increasing the likelihood of conviction.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration has classified fentanyl as a Schedule II drug because it has a high potential for abuse but it’s acceptable for cancer treatment, the letter, dated June 1, said.
“But fentanyl is only part of the problem: the federal government has not similarly addressed illicit
fentanyl analogues, even though these analogues have no medical use and are more lethal than
fentanyl, as evidenced by the higher rate of death and serious bodily injury resulting caused by
their use,” the letter said.
Under the bill, fentanyl-related substances would have the same penalties as those involving fentanyl analogues and researchers don’t need to follow as stringent of restrictions.
“Permanent scheduling allows the criminal prosecution of anyone caught possessing, distributing, or manufacturing illicit variations of the drug — ‘a task previously burdensome for prosecutors’ — without the uncertainty of whether the temporary authorization will expire during the prosecution,” the letter said. “Permanently changing the scheduling of fentanyl analogues ‘would eliminate lengthy litigation and permit prosecutors to quickly remove those involved in the illicit narcotic market from the streets.’ Such legislative action ‘would allow authorities to keep pace with clandestine labs attempting to bypass regulations by altering the chemical structures of controlled substances.'”
The bill also expedites fentanyl-related substances research by reducing restrictions on research.
President Joe Biden’s administration supports the bill.
“These two provisions are critical components of the Biden-Harris Administration’s 2021 recommendations to Congress to combat the supply of illicit FRS and save lives, including proposals to create a streamlined process for the Department of Health and Human Services to identify and remove or reschedule any individual FRS that is subsequently found to not have a high potential for abuse under the Controlled Substances Act and require a study of the impact of permanent FRS class-wide scheduling on research, civil rights, and the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of FRS,” a statement of the Biden Administration’s policy said.
However, more than 150 groups in a Human Rights Watch letter had asked the House of Representatives to vote against the bill, which ended up passing the House 289–133. Rep. Harriet Hageman was among its supporters.
National, state, and local public health, criminal justice reform, and civil rights organizations representatives said in the Human Rights Watch letter that structurally related substances can often have complementary therapeutic values and that mandatory minimums criminalize possibly inert or harmless substances. They said it’s crucial that substances can be rescheduled or removed.