Senator Blackburn Backs Bill Aimed at Ending the Fentanyl Crisis

Michelle Rosenker

July 19, 2019

In the wake of the rising fentanyl crisis in places like Tennessee, U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has joined forces with other Republicans to put into motion a bill that would help change sentencing guidelines for those charged with trafficking fentanyl. 

According to Sen. Blackburn, fentanyl is “deadly and it is killing Americans every single day.” She goes on to state that it is time “the punishment fit the crime for these drug traffickers”. In an effort to do just that, Sen. Blackburn has put forth the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2019, which would provide changes to the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act. Currently, the penalty for trafficking fentanyl can range anywhere from five years jail time and $2 million in fines to life in prison and a fine of $8 million dollars. The wide range in penalties is reflective of how much fentanyl is being trafficked and how many people are trafficking it (if not being done individually). Specifically, a trafficker in possession of two grams of fentanyl is currently receiving the same punishment as a trafficker holding five grams of fentanyl. 

Fellow Republicans including Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) are co-sponsoring the bill in a public display of support for Sen. Blackburn and her initiative to change the direction of the nation’s opioid crisis. If this bill becomes enacted, it would lessen the amount of fentanyl that traffickers can be in possession of to be apprehended and sentenced. 

How Lethal is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning that it mimics the effects of naturally occurring opiates and prescription painkillers. Originally, fentanyl was developed to offer pain remedies to cancer patients, however, it has now become unequivocally the deadliest drug in America.

Unlike other drugs where it takes a good amount to produce fatal effects, only two to three milligrams of fentanyl can kill. To place that into better perspective, that is less than half of a teaspoon, which is five milligrams. The potency of fentanyl is undoubtedly the primary reason why it is so deadly, however, what adds to fentanyl-related deaths is the unknowing consumption of it by opioid users. 

Many drug dealers are not only mixing fentanyl into their stashes of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine to increase its potency, but they are also stamping fentanyl into pills, making it appear as pharmaceutical pills like OxyContin or Percocet. For most drug dealers, the goal is not to attempt to harm their customers, but rather to expand the amount of drugs they have so they can make more money. Dealers are also experiencing an influx of fentanyl, meaning that they must find some way to sell it to turn a profit, hence hiding it in other substances or marketing it as another painkiller.

It is not an exaggeration to state that fentanyl can kill easily. This drug is unlike others, specifically because it is 50-100 times more potent than morphine. With thousands of people dying each year because of fentanyl, lawmakers such as Sen. Blackburn are working overtime to find ways to curb this crisis. While many are fighting for stronger penalties for drug dealers, others are working to protect users. For example, syringe exchange programs have popped up throughout the country and offer intravenous drug users (including opioid users) a place to dispose of used needles and obtain clean ones. While these sites have helped to decrease instances of bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis, they have also helped save the lives of those unknowingly using fentanyl by providing drug test strips. Users can use these test strips to determine exactly what is in their drugs so they do not suffer a fatal overdose by fentanyl or other dangerous combinations. This specific preventative measure paired with legislation such as that proposed by Sen. Blackburn can work in concert to attack the opioid crisis from all angles, along with other initiatives. 

Fentanyl Statistics

Fentanyl has now been declared the deadliest drug in the state of Tennessee. In 2017, 105 people in Nashville alone died from fentanyl-related overdoses, which represents a number four times higher than that of heroin overdoses. Deaths associated with fentanyl in the Nashville area rose 250 percent in 2015, another 54 percent in 2016, and 75 percent in 2017. Today, Nashville and its surrounding areas are still struggling with the presence of fentanyl and the deaths it is causing. Nationwide, fentanyl is growing in popularity just as quickly as it is in Tennessee. Consider the following:

  • Every day in the United States, 130 people die of an opioid overdose
  • In 2007, 18,515 Americans died of an opioid overdose
  • By 2017, approximately 47,600 people died from an opioid overdose in that year alone
  • More than half of the nation’s opioid-related deaths include synthetic opioids like fentanyl
  • Tennessee is in the top 20 states with the most fentanyl-related deaths in the country
  • Approximately 6.7 women per every 100,000 women die from an opioid overdose in Tennessee compared to the national fentanyl overdose rate for women, which is 5 deaths per 100,000 women
  • In Davidson County, home to Nashville, 86 people died of a fentanyl overdose in 2017 
  • More females and men die from fentanyl overdoses in Davidson County than in other parts of Tennessee, with women suffering more fatal overdoses on average in the county than all women do in the United States

The faster that the fentanyl crisis plaguing Tennessee can be addressed, the more lives will be saved. Hopefully, if the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2019 is enacted, it will represent the state and the rest of the country getting one step closer to stopping this epidemic.

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