White House Walks Political Tightrope With Plan To Criminalize Fentanyl

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President Joe Biden’s administration hopes that concessions to progressives can help it win over Congress in the face of the opioid epidemic.

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The White House is still attempting to reach a middle ground in the face of the raging opioid epidemic that has drawn fire from across the ideological spectrum, with progressives accusing the president of Joe Biden A failed drug war continues and some conservatives argue that he is soft on drug traffickers. But the plan may still find the sweet spot of Congress.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy on the issue recommends permanently criminalizing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid thought to increase drug overdose deaths by 30% in 2020. played a major role in The death toll from overdose has risen to 93,000, one of the largest deaths in US history.

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Beginning in 2018, an emergency order classified fentanyl and its analogs — a wide variety of drugs with similar chemical structures — under Schedule I, a category for substances such as heroin and LSD that have no approved medical use. That order, which expired in May, was extended by Congress to October.

But that expansion angered some progressives, who pointed out that fentanyl had long been Prescribed by doctors as pain relievers. He argued that the administration was continuing the policies of a failed drug war.

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At the time, the White House said it would work to address progressive concerns.

The Office of the National Drug Control’s proposal, issued earlier this month, aimed to strike a compromise: it would permanently classify fentanyl as a Schedule I drug — a major request from both moderate Democrats and Republicans — But would exempt nonviolent offenders from the mandatory minimum sentence requirements that usually go with the designation. It would also change rules to allow more research of Schedule I drugs, which the administration said should help better understand and prevent overdose and addiction.

The proposal immediately came under fire from both polarized ends of the ideological spectrum. Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton said mandatory minimum sentence exceptions were “unacceptable.” A coalition of progressive and civil rights groups said it “resonates the failed drug policies of our past.”

“It’s the same old response to the problems around drugs in this country,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, a top official at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “After 50 years of the drug war, we see that just criminalizing drug users is not working.”

Those who have the final say are likely to be a cadre of moderate senators from states ravaged by the opioid epidemic, including Sens Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Is. .) And they are open to a White House proposal.

In an interview earlier this year, Hassan took aim at progressives whom he thought were nave about the need to punish distributors of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, which, along with more common recreational drugs. are rapidly mixed.

“We need a public health approach,” Hassan said. “But we also need to clarify who is driving this epidemic, whether it is the vicious cartel or the overzealous big drug companies that are prescribing drugs they know are addictive.”


Hassan, who is facing a potentially tough election against the GOP government. Chris Sununu has made fighting the opioid epidemic an important part of his political identity in the Biden era. She helped raise the potential nomination of Janet Woodcock, fearing that Woodcock was too close to drugmakers, which helped fuel the early stages of the opioid epidemic. (Haasan has his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which has garnered thousands in corporate PAC donations from pharma companies over the years.)

Hassan, however, is keen to support Biden’s proposal. A spokesman said the senator was still reviewing feedback on the plan, but was “delighted to see the administration taking continued action to identify and keep fentanyl and similar substances under tighter controls.”

Portman, who co-sponsored legislation with Manchin to permanently place fentanyl on Schedule I, similarly praised the settlement proposal.

“Not only is a sustainable solution critical in our fight against drug addiction in this country, but it is also important to ensure that law enforcement protect our communities by taking criminal action against individuals who manufacture, distribute or operate these deadly drugs. can continue.” Portman said.

The White House began briefing lawmakers last week and discussing the proposal, and hopes the plan can pass Congress before the extension ends on October 22 amid a crowded program in both houses.

Still, McCurdy and other progressives hope to persuade Democrats to reject the administration’s proposals. He said civil rights groups are seeking to work with allies in the House such as Sen. Cory Booker (DNJ) and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to reject the motion.

The Biden administration is taking its public health steps to tackle the crisis. The administration has requested more than $10 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to expand substance abuse treatment programs, and laws designed to eliminate punishment disparities between white and black drug users. has endorsed.

Many of these moves have come under attack from conservatives. Republicans, including Cotton, jumped on one Fox News report Stating that Biden’s fentanyl proposal amounts to weakening penalties for drug trafficking — ignoring that penalties would be eliminated entirely if an extension is not passed into law.

So far, the mandated minimum penalty the administration is seeking to abolish has prosecuted only eight cases since the original emergency scheduling went into effect in 2018.

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