In a move aimed at combating the deadly opioid crisis, the House of Representatives passed the Halt All Lethal Trafficking of (HALT) Fentanyl Act on May 25.
Passing 289-133, the bipartisan legislation would strengthen penalties for fentanyl trafficking and was supported by President Joe Biden. Fentanyl would now be listed as a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act.
Many House GOP members celebrated the bill’s passage, with Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) calling the bill “critical” as fentanyl continues to “invade all of our communities.”
On May 22, Biden called on Congress to pass the HALT Fentanyl Act, urging members “to pass all of these critical measures to improve public safety and save lives.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has become a leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States. The HALT Fentanyl Act will increase penalties for those involved in fentanyl trafficking and provide additional resources for law enforcement agencies to tackle this illicit trade.
The bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), garnered support for the bill on May 22, saying “lives are on the line.” He added that “77 percent of adolescent overdose deaths in 2021 were from illicit fentanyl poisonings,” in a May 22 Twitter post.
However, the bill has faced opposition from a coalition of 150 civil rights groups, who penned an open letter urging members of Congress to vote against the legislation. The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch, refer to the HALT Fentanyl Act as “yet another iteration of the drug war’s ineffective and punitive strategies.”
“The emergence of fentanyl-related substances in recent years has fueled similar waves of alarmist media and law enforcement headlines that are informed by mythology rather than science,” the letter reads.
The letter points out that mandatory minimum sentences, which the bill seeks to expand, have historically contributed to mass incarceration and have not proven effective in reducing drug-related crimes. The groups also express concern that the proposed legislation could hinder efforts to address the root causes of drug addiction, such as lack of access to treatment and socioeconomic disparities. The signees prefer other proposals from House Democrats.
“This bill that they’re putting on the floor today, in my view, does not solve this problem,” Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) told The Epoch Times. She added that it doesn’t sufficiently focus on “long-term recovery because there’s a demand for these drugs that we need to tackle as well.”
Some Republicans have said the HALT Fentanyl Act does not go far enough.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), in a statement released on May 23, underscored the urgent need to take action against fentanyl trafficking and said the bill “is critically important in our fight to stop the flow of this deadly drug and its synthetics into the United States.”
Scalise argued that enhancing penalties for fentanyl traffickers would serve as a deterrent and disrupt the illicit supply chain that fuels the opioid crisis. He emphasized the devastating toll that fentanyl-related deaths have taken on communities across the country. He called on his colleagues to prioritize public safety and protect vulnerable Americans from this deadly scourge.
“It’s happening every day in every community in America, and it shouldn’t be happening, and we’re doing something about it,” Scalise said.
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