Posted by on May 25, 2023 9:47 pm
Categories: News The Hill

Democrats divided over fentanyl bill

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The Big Story 

Fentanyl bill divides House Democrats

Legislation to permanently classify fentanyl-like substances into a category reserved for the most dangerous drugs passed the House on Thursday.

© AP

The vote divided Democrats and showed the political difficulties in trying to tackle the opioid crisis. The legislation now moves to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.


Many of the House Democrats who voted in favor of the bill came from swing districts, eager to go on record as supporting legislation intended to crack down on synthetic opioids.

The HALT Fentanyl Act passed 289-133, with 74 Democrats joining all but one Republican. 

The Biden administration said it supported the bill earlier this week, while also calling on Congress to pass its other recommendations, like narrower mandatory minimum sentences.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, but it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for some pain management so it is classified as Schedule II. 

Fentanyl-related substances are chemically altered to be similar to but not exactly like fentanyl, making it difficult for authorities to tell if a substance was produced legally.

The measure would mean mandatory harsh jail sentences for fentanyl-related drug crimes, which Democrats and public health groups objected to.


They argued it’s another example of overcriminalization, with more focus on incarceration than prevention, treatment and recovery.

“We simply cannot incarcerate our way out of a public health crisis,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“This war on drugs — mandatory sentencing, incarcerate everybody — has not worked,” Pallone said. 

Republicans assert fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances are pouring across the border. They said the legislation, introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), aims to curb overdose deaths and protect Americans by giving law enforcement the tools needed to fight those drugs.

“We should vote to advance this bill that we agree on and that does help stop the bad guys,” Griffith said. “Once fentanyl analogues are permanently made Schedule I, Congress can build off this and deal with the illicit crisis.”

Welcome to The Hill’s Health Care newsletter, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi — every week we follow the latest moves on how Washington impacts your health.

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Essential Reads 

How policy will be impacting the health care sector this week and beyond:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday granted full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral pill Paxlovid for use in adults who are at high risk for progression to severe disease. The agency’s approval comes nearly a year and a half after the drug received an emergency use authorization and as hospitalization and deaths from the virus continue to decline. Paxlovid is given as a five-day treatment …

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on Thursday signed into law a ban on abortions after an ultrasound detects any cardiac activity, which is typically at about six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant.  The law marks a significant setback for abortion-rights advocates in the state. Prior to this measure, abortions were legal in South Carolina until 22 weeks, though a lack of access and other restrictions …

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning that more than 200 U.S. patients may be at risk for fungal meningitis after undergoing surgical procedures at clinics in a Mexican border city. The CDC said Wednesday it is working with the Mexican Ministry of Health and local and state officials to respond to an outbreak linked to patients who underwent procedures under epidural anesthesia in Matamoros, Mexico, …

The Hill event 

Cancer Care Access & Equity: Breaking Barriers to Innovation, June 8, 2-3 p.m. ET

We live in a groundbreaking era of innovation in oncology, yet cancer continues to be the second leading cause of death in the United States. What obstacles stand in the way of optimal cancer care?   


The Hill will bring together policymakers, health experts and patient advocates to discuss the changes to the cancer care delivery system, with the following speakers: Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Co-Chair of the Cancer Caucus and member of the House Ways & Means Committee; Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Co-Chair of the Cancer Caucus and Senior Member of the House Ways & Means Committee; and Dr. Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

In Other News 

Branch out with a different read from The Hill:

Indiana doctor’s discipline hearing centers on privacy, reporting of Ohio 10-year-old’s abortion

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A hearing on possible disciplinary action opened Thursday for an Indianapolis doctor who spoke publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, with finger pointing over how the case became a political flashpoint in the national abortion debate. Indiana’s Republican attorney general …

Around the Nation 

Local and state headlines on health care:

Doctor in 10-year-old rape victim’s abortion could lose license (The Washington Post)
California hospitals seek a broad bailout, but they don’t all need it (KFF Health News)
One man left Kansas for a lifesaving liver transplant — but the problems run deeper (NPR)

What We’re Reading 

Health news we’ve flagged from other outlets:

Long COVID is defined by these 12 symptoms, new study finds (CBS News
White House launches national plan to end gender-based violence (CNN)
Gilead and Teva defend antitrust claims that prices for HIV medicines were unfairly kept high (Stat)

What Others are Reading 

Most read stories on The Hill right now:

House Republicans passed a resolution Wednesday to overturn President Biden’s student debt relief plan that would give up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness … Read more

Democrats erupted in laughter on the House floor Wednesday when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — who was presiding over the chamber — called … Read more

What People Think 

Opinions related to health submitted to The Hill:

You’re all caught up. See you tomorrow! 

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