On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing entitled, “Fighting Fentanyl: The Federal Response to a Growing Crisis.” Committee Chairperson Patty Murray (D-WA) opened the hearing by pointing out that overdose deaths, in general, continued to rise in 2021, reaching historic highs. Furthermore, she pointed out that fentanyl deaths have increased among the teenage population, with 950 teenagers dying in 2021 from opioid-related overdoses.

Senators Murray and Cassidy, alongside one of the speakers, Kemp Chester, Senior Policy Advisor for Supply Reduction and International Relations in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House, spoke on how most of teenage overdose deaths are completely unintentional. An increasingly popular practice among the youth population is ordering prescription drugs online, like Adderall, for example. However, when they receive the mail-ordered prescription, it is not Adderall at all; it is laced with fentanyl or other such opioids. Senator Cassidy (R-LA) emphasized how important it is to for the US to address loopholes in international and national shipping systems.

Another key point that was brought up by both Chester and Christopher Jones, Acting Director for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, related to preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, as a prevention strategy. ACEs create a higher risk of mental and substance use disorders in adulthood. The various approaches and programs that can be used as evidence to prevent ACEs include early childhood home visitation, mentoring programs, and family-centered treatment for substance use disorders have shown to support children and families.

When Congress debates this issue, it needs to remember that fentanyl use and overdose deaths drastically impact the lives of children, resulting in more children served by the child welfare system and more children grieving the loss of parents, either because of death or separation.

By Taylor Savage, Policy Intern