Hill joins coalition urging Senate to keep fentanyl as Schedule I drug

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has joined a coalition urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass legislation that would continue to classify fentanyl as a Schedule I drug.

Hill joined attorneys general from every state, territory and the District of Columbia in a letter to Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein, the chairman and ranking member of the federal committee tasked with reviewing S. 2701, the Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting, or FIGHT Fentanyl Act. The bill would codify a soon-to-expire order allowing federal law enforcement to criminally charge people who manufacture, distribute or handle fentanyl-related substances.

“The FIGHT Fentanyl Act will ensure that law enforcement agencies and courts retain the tools needed to keep those who traffic in this deadly substance off the streets,” Hill said in a news release.

According to the Wednesday letter, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that there were 72,000 drug-related deaths in the United States in 2017. Of those, 40% involved fentanyl or a fentanyl-related compound, the letter says.

Specifically in Ohio, the AGs said last month, law enforcement intercepted more than 20 kilograms of fentanyl, 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine and half a kilogram of heroin. Testing showed that 20 kilograms of the fentanyl were laced with carfentanyl, a substance proven to be more than 100 times as potent as fentanyl.

“The potency of the fentanyl-related substances in this single bust was enough to kill every man, woman, and child in the state of Ohio several times over,” the AGs wrote.

At issue in the federal legislation is a February 2018 scheduling order for the Drug Enforcement Administration that listed fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs. That means the drugs have no currently accepted medical use but do have a high potential for abuse.

The DEA order is set to expire Feb. 6, 2020.

“This legislation is crucial to federal and state efforts to curb the opioid epidemic nationally and within each individual state,” the letter says. “It is for these reasons that we commend Senators (Rob) Portman and (Joe) Manchin for their leadership in bringing forward this important legislation, and we urge you to take up and pass S. 2701 before the DEA’s temporary order expires.”

The National Association of Attorneys General has likewise endorsed S. 2701 as one of its official policy positions. The association generally endorses about a dozen policies each year, Hill said.

While the legislative branch considers the opioid-related legislation, members of the judicial branch recently released a toolkit designed to assist judges and other criminal justice representatives as they deal with defendants who suffer from opioid use or substance use disorders.

The National Judicial Opioid Task Force, co-chaired by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, last month released a report with findings and recommendations on the judicial role in addressing the current drug crisis and preparing for the next addiction crisis. The report emphasizes the role of courts as “conveners” of community stakeholders who should be involved in helping drug offenders treat their addictions while also resolving their related criminal and civil matters.

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