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Will Congress pass legislation to combat fentanyl deaths?

Scripps News explores one way Congress hopes to save lives from fentanyl overdoses, and asks whether it stands a chance of actually becoming law.​
Will Congress pass legislation to combat fentanyl deaths?
Posted at 2:08 PM, Feb 12, 2024

It is an issue Scripps News has chronicled for years: the rise of overdose deaths in the U.S., with many connected to fentanyl.

The latest numbers suggest that the country loses around 110,000 Americans to such overdoses annually, equivalent to the population of Dayton, Ohio, or Billings, Montana.

Congress may be on the verge of passing legislation to try to address the crisis.

The FEND Off Fentanyl Act has been included in the Senate's National Security package, which funds Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, among other policy priorities.

The proposed legislation declares the trafficking of fentanyl across borders a national emergency and imposes new sanctions on entities connected to the drug trade.

Additionally, it gives the Treasury Department new authority to flag fentanyl-related banking transactions.

Furthermore, it opens up new potential funding streams for the Biden administration to increase seizures.

Information from the White House

Dr. Rahul Gupta is the director of National Drug Control Policy under President Joe Biden.

Gupta spoke with Scripps News about how many of these drugs enter the United States. 

"What we see today is 90% of drugs like fentanyl are coming through legal ports of entry," Gupta said.

Gupta said most of the fentanyl, and the chemicals used to make it, is entering the U.S. not through cracks in the southern border, but legal ports of entry. Many times, shipping containers or trucks entering the U.S. are not scanned.

"We need to make sure there are proper technology such as drug-detecting machines, as well as officers," Gupta said.

"Prior to this administration when you look at the numbers, only 2% of private vehicular traffic and 17% of cargo traffic was ever scanned," Gupta added.

The Biden administration has asked Congress for additional funding to address this.

Of course, whether or not any fentanyl-related legislation becomes law is very much to be determined.

Right now, the fentanyl proposals have been connected to border legislation as well as national security packages like aid to Ukraine, issues that are more controversial.

One thing that is clear, however, is the number of people dying and impacted from fentanyl doesn't appear to be slowing.

SEE MORE: Scripps News Investigates: The silent toll of the fentanyl epidemic

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