President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled its support for a Republican-led bill that would more strictly regulate fentanyl by listing it as a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act.
Earlier this year, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) introduced H.R. 467, the “Halt All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl Act” (“HALT Fentanyl Act”) to permanently list fentanyl-related substances (FRS) as a Schedule I narcotics.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines Schedule I narcotics as those with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Fentanyl and its analogs have already been deemed Schedule I drugs, but only on a temporary basis that is set to expire in 2024.
While making fentanyl and its analogs a more permanent part of the Schedule I narcotics list, Griffith’s bill would also reform the scheduling system to make it easier for researchers to study such controlled substances.
“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,” the White House said (pdf) in a statement of administrative policy on Monday.
The Biden administration issued a list of recommendations for fentanyl and its analogs in September 2021. Among those recommendations was to make the FRS Schedule I status permanent.
Griffith and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) introduced the HALT Fentanyl Act in December 2021, and again in January.
Fentanyl has been a particular cause for concern in recent years due to its potency. Fentanyl’s potency makes it popular as an adulterant in other drug substances but also increases the potential for potentially deadly overdoses.
The United States recorded 108,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, including about 71,000 from fentanyl or similar synthetic opioids. The DEA announced record fentanyl seizures last year, seizing more than 379 million doses of the drug.
Other Democrats Opposed GOP Bill
Thus far, Griffith’s latest iteration of the bill has garnered 52 co-sponsors, all of whom are Republican lawmakers. Biden’s endorsement could shift Democratic support toward the bill and help it gather more momentum to pass.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce favorably reported on Griffith’s bill on May 17, by a vote of 27–19. The predominantly Democratic minority view on the bill was that it didn’t implement all of the Biden administration’s recommendations for fentanyl and its analogs.
While Griffith’s bill permanently reschedules FRS as a Schedule I narcotic and streamlines the process to research these substances, the 2021 Biden recommendations also entailed excluding FRS from all quantity-based mandatory minimum penalties for possession. The 2021 recommendations also included creating a more streamlined process for the Department of Health and Human Services to remove or reschedule any individual FRS “that is found to not have a high potential for abuse,” and enabling federal courts to vacate or reduce the sentence of an individual convicted of an offense involving an individual FRS that is rescheduled.
“H.R. 467, the HALT Fentanyl Act, includes only two of the Administration’s recommendations, the requirement to permanently schedule FRS and the provisions that streamline research registration requirements,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote last week.
“The majority rejected all Democratic amendments to this bill, including an amendment to implement the Biden Administration’s interagency proposal to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances,” Pallone added.
NTD reached out to Pallone’s office for his response to the Biden administration’s statement on the HALT Fentanyl Act. Pallone’s office did not respond by the time this article was published.
Griffith welcomed the White House’s support for his bill.
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Griffith said in a statement to the Washington Examiner on Monday. “It is a straight-forward and necessary change in the law, as has been recognized by OMB [Office of Management and Budget]. I appreciate the Administration’s support.”