Justice Department Cracking Down on Opioid Abuse
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Justice Department Cracking Down on Opioid Abuse

Sessions Moves to Re-Classify Deadly Fentanyl Knockoffs as ‘Schedule 1’ Drugs, Like Heroin

Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to use his emergency powers to make it easier to prosecute traffickers and users of knockoffs of fentanyl, a drug so toxic that an amount the size of three grains of sugar can kill.

Sessions plans to temporarily classify copycat versions of fentanyl as schedule 1 drugs, or drugs with a high potential for abuse that have no currently accepted medical use. Other schedule 1 drugs include heroin and LSD.

“By scheduling all fentanyls, we empower our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to take swift and necessary action against those spreading these deadly poisons,” Sessions said.

More than 20,000 Americans are believed to have died in 2016 from overdoses of fentanyl or knockoffs of the drug. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, cocaine or meth to boost dealers’ profits. Prince died in April 2016 of an accidental overdose of fentanyl.

Laws often used to prosecute dealers name different copycat versions of fentanyl such as acetyl fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl. Chemists who cook the illegal drugs can tweak their recipes to make the drugs just slightly different to try to make prosecutions more difficult.

“They can shift an oxygen molecule here or a hydrogen group over there and that slightest shift affects the legality of it from a controlled substance to an unknown,” said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Dangerous Drug Task Force.

Sessions wants to classify all copycat versions of fentanyl as Schedule 1 drugs to make prosecutions easier and hopes to get Congress to make this change permanent.  Under the Controlled Substances Act, he can put drugs on the schedule 1 list for up to two years and possibly get a one-year extension.

Fentanyl, first made in 1960 by Belgian doctor Paul Janssen, is legally prescribed for pain in cancer patients. The drug can create intense euphoria, slow the heartbeat and depress breathing.

The Drug Enforcement Agency made fentanyl a schedule II drug, making it a felony to sell or use the opioid without a prescription.

Wichita’s rogue chemist George Marquardt, compared to “Walter White” of “Breaking Bad” notoriety, fueled the first epidemic of fentanyl deaths in the early 1990s. He built a mass spectrometer to determine the structures of organic molecules to ensure the purity of his compounds.

Now the drugs are coming by mail from China or over the border from Mexico. The drug is so potent that an Ohio police officer who brushed the drug off his uniform collapsed and was treated for an overdose. It took four doses of the opioid antidote Narcan to revive him.

“If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can do to a community, it’s fentanyl,” said Michael Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New England division. “It’s manufactured death.”

Featured Photo: Chinese-manufactured fentanyl seized by police in Canada.

January 9, 2018