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With overdoses at a record high, we must crack down on fentanyl-related substances

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Saddened by the overdose epidemic that is worsening throughout the nation and crippling communities like mine, I recently took to the House floor to raise awareness and spur much needed congressional action as deaths involving synthetic opioids continue to skyrocket. In one community I represent, Pasco County, 193 people have died from overdose since January. The vast majority of these cases involved fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances. I have also received hundreds of heartbreaking stories from constituents whose families have been devastated by addiction. One constituent, MaryAnne, wrote to me, “I lost my adult son in June of 2021 to a fentanyl overdose. The system failed me in every single way. With open borders, enough fentanyl came pouring into our country’s southern border to kill 70% of our population. My son is sadly one of those statistics.” Parents like MaryAnne are the faces of the fentanyl crisis. Sadly, stories like MaryAnne’s have become all too common. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the CDC reports that more than 100,000 American died from a fentanyl overdose. The tragedies these families have endured are the reason why we must fight back.

The first step is to secure our border. The majority of all fentanyl-related substances in the U.S. are now smuggled across the southwest border. In FY 2021, CBP seized 11,201 pounds of fentanyl, a historic rate that is more than all that was seized in FYs 2018 and 2019 combine. This amounts to enough fentanyl to cause 2,540,341,996 deaths. Americans can no longer afford for this administration to ignore the worsening crisis along our southern border. This should not be a partisan issue, but rather an urgent matter of public health and national security. Congress must take swift action to implement enhanced security measures to address a variety of security concerns, including stopping the free flow of fentanyl that is claiming so many American lives. 

We must also hold China accountable for its continued role in this crisis. The U.S. Justice Department stated in September that Mexican criminal drug networks are mass-producing illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-laced fake pills, using chemicals sourced largely from China, and are distributing these pills through U.S. criminal networks. These fake pills are designed to appear nearly identical to legitimate prescriptions such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Xanax and other medicines.  Criminal drug networks are selling these pills through social media, e-commerce, the dark web, and existing distribution networks. As a result, these deadly fake pills are widely available.

If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic it’s that we should be very skeptical of China. We can no longer allow the Chinese Communist Party to turn a blind eye and allow fentanyl’s chemical components to be manufactured in China, only to be shipped to Mexican cartels who mass-produce fentanyl and smuggle it into our country. The Trump administration was very tough on China and on border security. But since, we’ve seen a relaxing of these policies and the resulting free-for-all that has overrun our border. As a result, we’re seeing a surge of trafficking, subsequent overdoses in communities like mine, and record numbers of deaths. We must crack down on China and compel them to take a leadership role in consistently enforcing policies that would prevent these deadly drugs from ending up on our streets. 

We must also permanently place fentanyl-related substances into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and give law enforcement the tools it needs to seize these deadly substances as soon as they are found and thus keep them off our streets. To achieve that goal, I support the HALT Fentanyl Act authored by my colleagues, Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), which will permanently label fentanyl as a Schedule I substance. It also simplifies the registration process for certain Schedule I substances to ensure researchers have the ability to conduct studies on these substances. The emergency class-wide scheduling order for fentanyl-related substances is set to expire on Feb. 18, 2022. There are likely to be deadly consequences if Congress allows this order to expire or continue to kick the can down the road with temporary extensions. The time to act is now!

Gus Bilirakis represents the 12th District of Florida.

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