Congress Weighs Options to Control Opioid Copycats

January 31, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
September 12, 2019, New York, USA: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on Sept. 12, 2019 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement. Participants dropped hundreds prescription bottles of OxyContin while holding tombstones with the names of opioids casualties and banners reading "Shame on Sackler" and "200 Dead Each Day." (Erik McGregor/Zuma Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Drug control experts urged Congress Tuesday to take quick action to prevent drugs created by clandestine chemists that mimic the effects of opioids from entering legal and illegal marketplaces.

They suggested that Congress turn a temporary order on the chemicals into a permanent prohibition by classifying them as Class 1 – or highly illegal — drugs, similar to heroin or cocaine.

“Congressional action would resolve this issue and permanently address the United States’ response to these deadly fentanyl-related substances,” said Amanda Liskamm, a Justice Department opioid enforcement attorney. 

She spoke during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, which is considering legislation to prevent the spread of opioid synthetics.

The copycat drugs are commonly called fentanyl analogues, named for the powerful opioid painkiller Fentanyl. It is 100 times more potent than morphine as a painkiller but also more likely to lead to drug addiction and death from overdose.

The federal government’s year-old classification of fentanyl analogues as Class 1 drugs is set to expire Feb. 6.

So far, Congress has reacted with only temporary legislation to avoid interfering with research into antidotes for drug overdoses. It also was looking for a better definition of the broad class of fentanyl analogues.

Liskamm said the proliferation of fentanyl analogues creates significant risk for the public if there is no legislation that clamps down on the drug but still allows research to continue.

“Unfortunately, clandestine chemists have with relative ease created new synthetic variations of fentanyl by introducing minor structural modifications, resulting in new, non-controlled fentanyl-related substances,” Liskamm said in her testimony Tuesday. “These substances are specifically engineered to skirt U.S. law.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported fentanyl and chemical copycats caused 41 percent of the 70,200 U.S. drug overdoses in 2017.

The Trump administration turned over its proposal for new legislation to Congress Tuesday. It was discussed during the House hearing.

The proposal would give the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) discretion to decide which fentanyl analogues should be permanently classified as Class 1 drugs. The measure is supposed to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to prosecute anyone who tries to sell opioid’s chemical substitutes.

The proposal also would ease some rules on fentanyl analogue research.

The proposal was developed by the Justice Department and U.S. Health and Human Services Department, both of which sent witnesses to the congressional hearing.

Other parts of the Trump administration proposal would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to remove analogues from Schedule 1 classification if they have medical merit but a low potential for abuse. Some registration requirements for researchers would be streamlined.

The Trump administration proposal is essentially the same as a Republican bill pending in Congress. A vote in the House is expected as soon as this week.

The Senate passed legislation on fentanyl analogues this month but it only extends the temporary classification as a Class1 drug.

Some Democrats expressed concern during the House hearing that the bill could lead to widespread prosecutions of low-level drug offenders who are selling only weak versions of the fentanyl analogues.

One of them was U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat who chairs the subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

“Rather than relying solely on incarceration, we need to also focus significantly on treatment,” Bass said. “Under current federal sentencing guidelines, many defendants who are not high level traffickers may be unnecessarily subjected to mandatory minimums that in fact become life sentences. I want to make sure that we don’t repeat what we’ve done in past epidemics, which is the over-criminalization of an addiction.”

In The News

Health

Voting

In The News

Report Looks at Why Antipsychotics Are Being Overprescribed in Nursing Homes
Aging
Report Looks at Why Antipsychotics Are Being Overprescribed in Nursing Homes
May 17, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck

A recent report from the Health and Human Services Department finds that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services needs to improve data used to monitor antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, as insufficient data underestimates the scope of the antipsychotic overprescribing epidemic.  “This report from HHS... Read More

Oklahoma Legislature Approves New State District Map
In The States
Oklahoma Legislature Approves New State District Map
May 17, 2021
by TWN Staff

OKLAHOMA CITY - State lawmakers in Oklahoma this past week came to bipartisan agreement on a new legislative map to be used in upcoming state House and Senate races. And in something of the rarity in this hyper-sensitive time, the new maps received overwhelming bipartisan support.... Read More

Princeton Gerrymandering Project Launches District Mapping Contest
Political News
Princeton Gerrymandering Project Launches District Mapping Contest
May 17, 2021
by TWN Staff

The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project has launched what it is calling the "Great American Map-Off," a contest challenging the public to draw redistricting plans for seven crucial states – Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina and New York – in anticipation of the 2021 redistricting cycle. “Everyone... Read More

FDA Readies to Regulate AI and Machine Learning in Medical Devices
Technology
FDA Readies to Regulate AI and Machine Learning in Medical Devices
May 17, 2021
by Daniel Mollenkamp

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set its sights on the issue of artificial intelligence and machine learning in medical devices. Experts now say that the agency will need to open up a specific regulatory pathway for these devices that is sensitive to the unique... Read More

DOE Invests $35 Million to Reduce Carbon Footprint of Biofuel Production
Climate
DOE Invests $35 Million to Reduce Carbon Footprint of Biofuel Production
May 17, 2021
by TWN Staff

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Energy last week announced $35 million in funding that will help slash carbon emissions and scale up the volume and efficiency of renewable biofuel. The 15 awarded research projects are housed at colleges, universities, and labs across nine states and... Read More

Blinken Hasn't Seen Any Evidence on AP Gaza Building Strike
Foreign Affairs
Blinken Hasn't Seen Any Evidence on AP Gaza Building Strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday he hasn't yet seen any evidence supporting Israel's claim that Hamas operated in a Gaza building housing The Associated Press and other media outlets that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Blinken said he has pressed... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top