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Restrictions on fentanyl-like substances would extend into early next year under a measure slated for a House vote Tuesday, temporarily delaying a debate on the overdose crisis.
A stopgap spending bill (H.R. 5305) would push the expiration of the government’s power to ban the powerful drugs to Jan. 28, 2022. Those powers are currently set to expire Oct. 22.
The White House earlier this month asked to permanently place all fentanyl-related substances on the list of the most controlled narcotics to give law enforcement agencies the power to prosecute anyone caught in possession of them illegally. Congress has repeatedly extended that power temporarily, going back to the Trump administration.
Some lawmakers, namely Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), wanted these authorities to expire earlier this year, arguing they contribute to over-policing of people struggling with addiction. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) back the permanent ban.
Booker said Tuesday he’s “not a fan” of extending the deadline and is in discussions with party leaders about how they will address it when the legislation reaches the Senate.
“I’m going to make sure that whatever happens is in line with my values,” Booker said.
Advocates for changing the nation’s drug laws to prioritize addiction treatment over arresting people for possession say they will push for Congress to come up with a long-term solution allowing the government’s fentanyl-banning powers to expire.
“We have consistently said that this anti-science policy must expire,” Maritza Perez, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, said. “This extension will hopefully give Congress ample time to come up with a public health solution that is desperately needed to save lives.”
Overdose deaths hit an all-time high in 2020. There were 95,133 overdose deaths reported in the U.S. in the 12-month period ending in February 2021, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can come in many forms, making it difficult to classify certain substances. It’s illegal to make or transport fentanyl outside the medical system.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org