Sen. Alexander supports fentanyl law amid overdose epidemic

Brandon Paykamian • Nov 17, 2019 at 8:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, on Thursday became the latest cosponsor of a bipartisan bill that aims to designate all types of fentanyl as Schedule I narcotics.

“Last year, more Tennesseans died from opioid overdoses than were killed in car crashes. Fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times stronger than heroin — was the leading cause of these opioid-related deaths,” Alexander said in a statement to the Press.

“The opioid crisis is ravaging Tennessee communities, and by designating all forms of fentanyl as Schedule I controlled substances, the bill I cosponsored today would save thousands of lives.”

The Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act, first introduced to the Senate in May by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, specifically addresses “fentanyl-like substances,” which can be created by modifying the deadly synthetic opioid to change the drug’s chemical structure and avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids during the 12-month period ending in October 2018 reached 30,511 — more than triple the period ending in October 2015. In 2018, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 1,304 total opioid overdose deaths. Fifty-nine of those were in Northeast Tennessee.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, fentanyl case submissions to TBI Crime Labs have been increasing at an alarming rate, rising from three submissions in 2012 to 757 submissions in 2018. Officials said fentanyl submissions are on pace to reach 1,114 in 2019.

Much of the fentanyl found in the U.S. comes from Chinese manufacturers, which is why Alexander said he, along with other lawmakers, led a delegation in Beijing last year to meet with Chinese government officials to discuss what to do to turn the tide of fentanyl overdoses. After Chinese officials agreed to create their own regulations, Alexander said it is U.S. lawmakers’ turn to act.

“President Trump, in an earlier meeting, spoke with the Chinese president about this. China had already taken steps to stem the flow of fentanyl into our country by controlling 25 different substances of fentanyl,” Alexander said. “We asked the Chinese officials, including the Premier, to control all forms of fentanyl to allow Chinese narcotics agents to go after anyone in China who uses or produces fentanyl illegally or improperly.

“So China, working with the Trump Administration, took the first step in May by making the selling of fentanyl subject to the maximum penalty under Chinese law,” the senator added. “Now it is time for Congress to do the same and permanently classify all forms of fentanyl as Schedule I here in the United States.”