The HALT Fentanyl Act Doubles Down on Denialism

Jeffrey A. Singer

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 289–133 to pass the HALT Fentanyl Act.* The act permanently classifies fentanyl‐​related substances (FRS)—analogs of fentanyl that differ chemically from analogs currently used medically (e.g., sufentanil, remilfentanil, alfentanil)—as Schedule 1 drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration defines Schedule 1 drugs as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Set aside the fact that politicians have no way of knowing that future analogs have no potential medical use (think of all those years lost in treating mental health problems with psychedelics because the DEA determined they had no accepted medical use). Set aside the fact that keeping heroin and cannabis as Schedule 1 drugs for more than half a century has not deterred the black market from providing those drugs to consumers. What is even more mind‐​boggling is that the Trump Administration temporarily classified FRSs Schedule 1 in 2018 as an emergency measure in response to the rise in fentanyl‐​related overdose deaths, and renewed the temporary classification in 2020 through 2024. Fentanyl‐​related overdose deaths went from roughly 47,000 in 2018 to more than 81,000 in 2022. By what logic do lawmakers think that permanently extending FRSs Schedule 1 classification will somehow bring overdose deaths down?

The HALT Fentanyl Act also increases mandatory minimum sentences for people found possessing fentanyl‐​related substances. Experience shows that mandatory minimum sentences and even the death penalty do nothing to deter drug dealing and drug use. Mandatory minimums do, however, empower prosecutors to engage in coercive plea bargaining.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Government Surveillance last March I urged lawmakers not to go down this road.

The bill now goes to the Senate, and President Biden signals he will sign it.

The HALT Fentanyl Act is just the latest example of Congress doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This is prohibition denialism.

*HALT Fentanyl Act is an acronym for “Halt All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl Act”

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