The Department of Justice wants fentanyl-like drugs to be permanently classified as controlled substances, which would subject them to the same laws as similar drugs.

Fentanyl is an opioid administered for pain. Fentanyl’s exceptional effectiveness is complicated by its highly addictive nature. Drugs like fentanyl are widely misused when they are procured through illegal means. Legislators and medical providers recognize the need for escalated monitoring of these drugs.

In 2018, a temporary order from the Drug Enforcement Administration classified fentanyl-like drugs as controlled substances. This order made it possible for fentanyl controlled substances to be subject to national regulatory standards of production and distribution. Previously, black market drug distributors had used slightly modified versions of fentanyl to get around legal penalties. This order disallows that practice and makes it illegal to produce alternate compound versions of the drug.

In 2019, The Department of Justice (DOJ) is applying pressure to legislators to create a permanent version of this order, which expires in 2020. The DOJ’s statement in the hearing expressed that China and Mexico are the principal manufacturers of fentanyl-like substances that find buyers in the United States. According to this report, the Chinese government is also making an effort to classify and control these substances, which are designed to circumvent the United States law.

Temporary classification of illicit substances has been used before and proven to be effective. Legislators and government officials are hopeful that this motion will continue and have lasting effects on the illegal drug trade in the United States. Cutting off access is one of the many ways that communities throughout the nation can resist the spread of opioid abuse.

Fentanyl and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic in the United States began with the misuse of prescription drugs. Once a portion of the population became addicted to strong painkillers, the market opened for synthetic and illegally manufactured drugs. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency based on the alarming rates of opioid abuse throughout the country. According to the department, more than 130 people died daily because of opioid abuse and overdoses in 2016.

The fentanyl epidemic arose as this highly effective synthetic opioid was widely prescribed to treat chronic pain. Fentanyl is potent and addictive. It is a narcotic pain reliever with a variety of side effects that is more powerful than both heroin and morphine. Its classification as a controlled substance has long been established because it has great potential for abuse.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 report cites that fentanyl is regularly created for illicit use. Eleven out of the 21 DEA Field Divisions classify it as “highly available.” Fentanyl is currently the most popular synthetic opioid on the market. It is simple enough for the powder and pill forms of fentanyl to be modified just enough to avoid the initial drug classifications, which is why the temporary government order is necessary.

The DEA estimates that the rate of people who misuse fentanyl compounds that avoid the controlled substance classification is close to ten times higher than people who use heroin. The delay in ruling to control fentanyl-like substances created an environment for many more people to become addicted to these highly available drugs. Keeping this classification in place by signing it into law may be a valuable step toward eliminating access to these kinds of drugs.

Substance Classification and Tighter Regulations for Prescription Painkillers

Prescription painkillers are a helpful source of medical care for people with chronic pain. Palliative care has relied on these drugs to ease suffering for the terminally ill. Lawmakers are understandably hesitant to limit access to these drugs for people who sincerely need them.

The increased incidence of painkiller addiction has prompted lawmakers to increase assessment and propose guidelines for dispensing these powerful drugs. New drugs are always entering the market and must be subject to scrutiny and accurate classification. Prescription drugs should remain in the hands of medical caregivers who understand how to properly prescribe and apply them for positive use.

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By – Joy Youell
Joy Youell is a writer and content developer with a background in educational research. Using sound pedagogical approaches and expert-backed methods, Joy has designed and delivered adult learning content, professional development, and company training materials for organizations. Read more

Department of Justice. “The Countdown: fentanyl analogues & […]ncy scheduling order.” Presented June 4, 2019. Accessed July 21, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?” Last reviewed January 22, 2019. Accessed July 21, 2019.

U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. “2018 National Drug Threat Assessment.” Published October 2018. Accessed July 21, 2019.

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