Preventable overdoses in Maryland and around the country claimed more than 93,000 lives in 2020 according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl played a role in about 60% of those deaths. Fentanyl was developed to treat end-of-life cancer pain, but it has become extremely popular among casual drug users because it is between 80 and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is also deadly. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, just two milligrams of the drug can be a lethal dose.
The Biden administration’s fentanyl plan
The Biden administration laid out its plans to deal with fentanyl in a proposal released on Sept. 2. The plan calls for fentanyl to be permanently classed as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means individuals convicted of simply possessing the drug would face harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences. The proposal also allocates an additional $10.7 billion for substance abuse prevention and treatment.
Civil rights groups respond
The Biden administration’s proposal has received less than a warm welcome from groups advocating for criminal justice reform. A coalition of almost 100 civil rights groups headed by the Drug Policy Alliance sent a letter to senior lawmakers on Oct. 22 that urged Congress to reject the proposal. The letter points out that about 70% of the offenders sent to prison each year on fentanyl-related drug charges are people of color, and it reminds lawmakers that the legislative steps taken to counter crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s led to widespread sentencing inequality and mass incarceration. Congress temporarily rescheduled fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in 2018. The Biden proposal would make those changes permanent.
Harsh mandatory minimum sentences have filled the nation’s prisons with mostly nonviolent offenders while doing little to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. This is why nonprofit groups that advocate on behalf of narcotics offenders support treatment programs for the addicted and efforts to warn the public about the dangers of controlled substances. If Congress approves the Biden proposal, it will show that lawmakers have not heard these calls and still favor punishment aver rehabilitation.