The Trump administration is taking steps to make it easier to prosecute traffickers of potent synthetic opioids that have lead to an uptick in overdose deaths.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intends to temporarily schedule all fentanyl-related substances on an emergency basis, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
That classification will let prosecutors charge people trafficking substances similar to fentanyl with the same charges as fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
“Fentanyl — and its analogues — are a growing part of a growing problem in the United States,” a DEA official said in a call with reporters, adding that the department is seeing “new fentanyl-related substances crop up at alarming rates.”
At issue are overseas chemical manufacturers who try to alter the chemical structure of fentanyl sent to the United States to evade the Controlled Substances Act. This also makes it harder for prosecutors to convict drug traffickers.
The temporary scheduling can last up to two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. It goes into effect no sooner than 30 days after the DEA publishes a notice of intent in the Federal Register.
Last month, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in an effort to curb the rates of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin. Democratic lawmakers and some advocates panned the measure, saying more funding is needed for any such declaration to be effective.
The measure didn’t free up millions of dollars nor did it include a funding request to Congress.