The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that it would be listing fentanyl, and all it’s chemical derivatives as a schedule one controlled substance.
Fentanyl, as well as a number of other powerful derivatives like the carfentanil, is already a scheduled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This classification is given, “depending upon the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential.” Schedule one drugs are considered to have high potential for abuse, and have no redeeming medical or industrial use. Fentanyl itself, which is sometimes prescribed as an effective painkiller, is a schedule two drug
However, the overseas producers of fentanyl often seek to dodge the U.S. regulations by making small changes to the actual molecular structure of the substances that they ship to the United States. This creates fentanyl analogues not just technically scheduled but still produces the same powerful and dangerously high.
Previously, one DEA official explained, the administration had been playing “whack-a-mole,” prosecuting such cases under the Federal Analogue Act. That act permits prosecution for the trafficking of drugs which are “substantially similar” to those scheduled under the CSA. However, each prosecution requires individual expert testimony, making the process cumbersome and resource consuming for the DEA and federal prosecutors.
The new move, which is spurred by the increasingly dire circumstances for the opioid epidemic, means that the DEA will have to schedule all the synthetic fentanyl derivatives in masses, easing the arrest and prosecution burdens extremely substantially.
“President Trump has made it a cornerstone of his presidency to combat the deadly drug crisis in America, and today the Department of Justice is taking an important step toward halting the rising death toll caused by illicit fentanyl in the United States. By scheduling all fentanyl, we empower our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to take swift and necessary action against those spreading these deadly poisons,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said in a statement.
Fentanyl, which is approximately 50 times more powerful than the heroin, is the number one cause of drug overdose death in year 2016, accounting for a huge forty percent of the said deaths. Drug overdose death is the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States, and it is also the leading overall cause of death among Americans under 50.
“Today’s action represents just one step in the ongoing fight to battle the opioid epidemic,” said the Acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson. “DEA is committed to using all of its tools to aggressively fight and address the opioid crisis and growing fentanyl problem plaguing the United States.”
The scheduling would go into effect 30 days after DEA officially publishes the notice of intent, and would remain to be in effect for at least two years, with an option for an additional year if the certain conditions are met. Sessions also called on Congress to “do their part by permanently scheduling these lethal substances.”
The new policy also echoes proposals by the President’s own Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which issued its own draft final report last week. The commission, which is being chaired by the Governor Chris Christie, called for an enhancement of the federal sentencing penalties for distributing the fentanyl and its analogues, as well as the express targeting of these drug organizations which are involved in the distribution of fentanyl and enhanced detection measures for use by the U.S. Customs and Border Protections and the U.S. Postal Inspection Services.