On March 1, 2023, The House Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance held a hearing titled, “The Fentanyl Crisis in America: Inaction is No Longer an Option.” Under the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary committee, the subcommittee is led by Chairman Biggs [R-AZ] and Ranking Member Lee [D-TX]. In 2021, over 107,000 people in the United States died from overdoses.
There was strong disagreement between parties about whether the fentanyl crisis should be addressed using a public health or a border and crime approach. Representative Lee [D-TX] emphasized that “we cannot incarcerate our way out” of this crisis unlike past strategies. She called for a major public health awareness campaign that approached the opioid addiction from all angles in partnership with the White House, CDC, and the Department of Education. Representative McBath [D-GA] iterated this message, stating that the underlying cause of the opioid crisis is neglect.
Other suggested public health measures included increasing accessibility of opioid disruptors like Narcan for communities and schools. Making it easier for physicians to prescribe opioid treatment medications like suboxone and methadone would also expand access to recovery treatments. Finally, greater emphasis on harm reduction through overdose prevention centers, could help reduce the number of fentanyl deaths.
Last year, Congress passed an additional $60 million dollars for more border security agents and $70 million dollars towards inspection systems at ports of entry. Still, Representatives Biggs [R-AZ], Fry [R-SC], and Kiley [R-CA] argued that stronger DEA enforcement capacity is more necessary than increased funding. They labeled the problem as a national security issue, due to Mexico and China’s involvement in the fentanyl trafficking supply chain. Harsher sentences for drug traffickers were also recommended.
Despite clear agreement that action was necessary, there was little bipartisan consensus on next steps. Ultimately, strengthening outreach and educating young adults on the dangers of synthetic drugs seems most feasible. With the rise of fentanyl, it is more urgent than ever that Congress collaborates to prevent substance abuse and remove treatment barriers to save lives.
By Ava Cloghessy, Policy Intern