DEA Makes It Easier To Prosecute Opioid Dealers Trafficking In Fentanyl

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

In an effort to stem the flow of synthetic painkillers into the U.S., the Drug Enforcement Administration is making it easier to prosecute traffickers of the deadly substances.

Officials at the DEA and the Department of Justice announced Thursday the decision to issue an emergency order scheduling all fentanyl analogs as controlled substances, making it harder for traffickers to sidestep U.S. drug laws. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is now the deadliest drug in America, and it’s largely due to the proliferation of analogs of the substance, which are even more potent.

Fentanyl is already listed as a Schedule II drug by the DEA due to its limited medical application, but all related analogs will now also be treated as controlled substances. Officials say this will make it much easier to fight the relentless efforts of traffickers bringing these fatal painkillers into the U.S.

“President Trump has made it a cornerstone of his presidency to combat the deadly drug crisis in America, and today the Department of Justice is taking an important step toward halting the rising death toll caused by illicit fentanyls in the United States,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday. “By scheduling all fentanyls, we empower our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to take swift and necessary action against those spreading these deadly poisons.  I also urge the many members of Congress who clearly share our concern and alarm over fentanyl’s role in our opioid overdose epidemic to do their part by permanently scheduling these lethal substances.”

Fentanyl primarily flows through the mail from China, where manufacturers make tweaks to the chemical structure of the substance so that it is not covered by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA). When encountering traffickers of these substances, prosecutors previously had to rely on the complex Analogue Act, making it much harder to secure convictions.

Dealers in the U.S. and Mexican cartels order shipments of fentanyl at a fraction of the price of heroin from China and Hong Kong. It is then used to create roughly 20 times more doses out of a heroin batch, providing dealers with huge profits.

The DEA announced Oct. 27 the creation of six new teams that will be sent to some of the areas hit hardest by addiction to focus on increasing prosecutions for fentanyl trafficking.

The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released its first preliminary report in August giving an accounting of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC estimates that drug deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016, with 64,070 Americans suffering a fatal overdose that year, driven primarily by fentanyl.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.

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