House Republicans are shining the spotlight on the national fentanyl crisis, which they say has been exacerbated by President Biden’s loose border policies.
At a conference in the Capitol, the conservative Republican Study Committee gave the stage to parents who lost their children to a fentanyl overdose and came to Washington to share their stories and help lawmakers legislate to fight the epidemic.
“I don’t want to hear that anyone else I know and love has died because of this. I don’t want mothers going to bed at night crying because they lost their child,” said Lori Ashenfelder, a North Carolina mother who lost her son to fentanyl poisoning last year.
More than a dozen parents who lost children to the opioid epidemic attended the event.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times stronger than heroin. Illegal production makes it widely accessible and affordable, and drug dealers often mix it with other substances, leading to surprising overdoses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded more than 56,000 deaths with synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, in 2020, and the trend is on the rise.
Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, has introduced legislation that would increase penalties for distributing a Schedule I or II controlled substance in candy containers that could be aimed at children.
The Drug Enforcement Administration warned last month about the proliferation of “rainbow fentanyl,” or colorful pills that resemble candy. Police have seized such pills in at least 18 states.
Schedule I drugs are considered to have no medical use and are highly addictive, including heroin, LDS, and ecstasy. The federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, although many states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use.
Schedule II drugs have medically acceptable uses but have a high potential for abuse and addiction. These include fentanyl, methadone and Vicodin.
Republicans also pledged to support policies that would secure the southern border, which they believe is key to reducing the increase in preventable deaths from fentanyl.
“It’s a real shame that the Biden administration doesn’t recognize this because they opened the border on January 20, 2021,” said Rep. Tom Tiffany, Republican from Wisconsin. “My concern here is that, as a result of their actions at the border, they feel that they cannot recognize part of what happened across the border, which is a flood. [of fentanyl] to the United States.”
Rep. Texas Republican August Pfluger said his district’s proximity to the border gives him a clear picture of the issue. He blamed the flood of fentanyl in the US on lax immigration laws, with the drug spreading across the country from the border.
“It affects all my colleagues. Some of the problems with illegal immigrants are more concentrated in districts like mine, but the issue of fentanyl is everywhere,” he said.
Elsewhere in the Capitol, Democrats insisted that the southern border was not the only source of the fentanyl crisis and warned that Republicans were creating a skewed perception between migrants and criminals dealing illegal drugs.
“We actually know that fentanyl comes in through ports a lot more,” said Pennsylvania Democrat Representative Madeleine Dean. “Some fentanyl is coming through the border, but most of it is coming in through ports, so I hope” [Republicans] don’t just use it to demonize our immigration problem.”