WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman Vern Buchanan will introduce bipartisan legislation today with Congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH) to help keep deadly synthetic drugs off the streets. The Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting (FIGHT) Fentanyl Act would make permanent the current, albeit temporary classification of fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs. 

“The number of overdose deaths across the country annually due to illegal fentanyl-related substances is tragic and alarming,” said Buchanan. “These illegal drugs are destroying lives and families not only in our backyard here in Southwest Florida, but across the country. It’s clear we need to do much more to address this growing epidemic.”

The Congressman noted that fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin, but 50 times more powerful. These drugs are often manufactured in foreign countries and mailed into the United States.

In 2018, the number of drug overdose deaths dropped nationally for the first time since 1990 but increased recently in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 36,000 deaths in 2019 involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, and they accounted for nearly 73 percent of all opioid-involved deaths. Tragically, Florida saw a nearly 35 percent increase in overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids in 2019, from 2,091 to 2,837. 

Since 2018, fentanyl analogs have been classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I substance to allow federal law enforcement authorities to bring criminal actions against individuals who manufacture, distribute, or handle fentanyl-related substances. President Biden recently signed legislation to extend the classification, set to expire on May 6, 2021, through October 22, 2021. The FIGHT Fentanyl Act would make this temporary classification permanent. 

“This bill is one more tool for law enforcement to use to fight back against the illegal fentanyl producers, smugglers and dealers who are directly responsible for the deaths of so many Americans and reduce the amount of illegal fentanyl on our streets,” added Buchanan. 

The Buchanan-Pappas bill is a companion to bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). 

Buchanan’s efforts were applauded by local law enforcement and mental health and substance abuse service providers.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “Opioid abuse is ruining lives, destroying families and exacerbating public resources created to respond to overdoses in Florida. Fentanyl is a major force behind the increasing number of opioid deaths. I want to thank Congressman Buchanan for sponsoring legislation to permanently classify this deadly substance as a Schedule I drug. This important legislation could help save lives in Florida and across our nation.”

Melissa Larkin Skinner, the regional chief executive officer of Centerstone said, “Centerstone applauds Congressman Buchanan’s efforts to make a positive impact in combatting addiction so our communities can be healthier and safer.”

Tom Knight, the president and chief executive officer of First Step said, “The number of drug-related deaths in our nation has become turbulent, and fentanyl-related cases are a major reason for this. We are dealing with highly lethal substances that are impacting individuals, families and communities nationwide. I applaud Congressman Buchanan for giving attention to this issue and greatly support his efforts in labelling these substances as permanent Schedule I drugs.”

Buchanan has long championed raising awareness of the drug problem and taking forceful steps to address it.

Last Congress, the Congressman’s Fentanyl Sanctions Act (H.R. 2226) was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It imposes economic penalties on China-based drug manufacturers that knowingly send synthetic opioids to drug traffickers and criminal operations.

In 2019, Buchanan’s bill to create a national database on the best ways for patients to manage pain and avoid opioid addiction, the Centralized Opioid Guidance Act, was signed into law.

Two other Buchanan-backed bills were also signed into law during the previous session of Congress, the INTERDICT Act to help stem the flow of illicit opioids and the STOP Act to toughen screening of overseas shipments of deadly synthetic drugs coming into the United States.

In 2017, he was successful in securing millions of dollars in funding for our area of Southwest Florida to confront the opioid epidemic.

Buchanan has consistently pushed to raise awareness of the Suncoast’s drug problems including chairing a hearing examining the impact of addiction on families and children. The 16th District Congressman also hosted a roundtable in Bradenton with local police officers, medical professionals, and stakeholders and led a meeting of the bipartisan 29-member Florida congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. where members heard testimony from anti-drug experts.

In 2014, the Food and DEA adopted Buchanan’s proposal to make it more difficult for abusers to obtain certain highly addictive narcotics.