Lawmakers are considering a proposal to permanently make fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which are similar in chemical structure, a schedule 1 narcotic.
Health experts said fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) is a co-sponsor of the “Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act,” or SOFA Act, in the U.S. Senate.
"It's much more dangerous than just an opioid pill,” Alexander said.
The proposal means there would be harsher penalties connected to fentanyl.
"It's stricter in terms of the law enforcement and the penalties are more severe for anyone whose caught doing it,” Alexander said.
The National Association of Attorneys General supports the SOFA Act and said it closes a loophole that kept the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind fentanyl manufacturers.
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But groups like The Sentencing Project met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Friday to urge them to instead focus on providing more resources like addiction treatment.
"Locking people up is not dissuading them from using drugs,” The Sentencing Project Director of Strategic Initiatives, Kara Gotsch, said. “It's not dissuading them from selling them. What we need to do is stop people's move to use drugs."
The group and several other lawmakers are also concerned that the proposal would mean the DEA and not health officials would determine what counts as a fentanyl analogue.
Senators on the Judiciary Committee wrote a letter over the summer to the Department of Health and Human Services and said they were concerned about testimony that there are an "infinite number of compounds” that could be considered a fentanyl analogue.
"We're really concerned about this move to take the researchers and the scientists out of the equation when learning about drugs,” Gotsch said.
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