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Heinrich: “Enough is Enough,” Pushes for Immediate Action to Tackle the Fentanyl Crisis

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) held a press conference with New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, first responders, law enforcement, and a New Mexico resident personally impacted by the fentanyl crisis to highlight the urgent need for action and discuss efforts happening at all levels of government to keep families safe and get deadly fentanyl out of our communities.   

Senator Heinrich is leading comprehensive efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic and protect New Mexico communities from fentanyl. Most recently, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Heinrich secured substantial federal funding to combat the fentanyl crisis, as well as report language to establish the creation of a comprehensive fentanyl tracking system and to remove barriers to access for opioid use disorder medications. 

Heinrich is a cosponsor of the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, bipartisan legislation that targets the fentanyl crisis by wielding our country’s economic tools against transnational criminal organizations. He is also a cosponsor of the Stop Fentanyl at the Border Act, legislation that would enable U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire more Officers and Border Patrol Agents to increase capacity to stop illicit smuggling over the border.  

A more extensive list of Heinrich’s actions to tackle the fentanyl crisis can be found here

His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:  

Many of us are painfully aware of the devastation the fentanyl epidemic is causing.

In New Mexico, we’re seeing the toll of this crisis play out in every corner of our state. 

It’s killing New Mexico’s children, and their cousins, uncles, aunts, and classmates.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented in numbers the alarming spike we’re seeing in our communities.

Drug overdose deaths have gone from 65,000 Americans in 2020 to 112,000 deaths last year.

Around 75% of the overdoses we have seen in recent years involve opioids.

And the rate of deaths from overdoses involving illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, have skyrocketed compared to overdoses from prescription opioids and heroin.

In New Mexico, we have the 6th highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the entire country.

Enough is enough.

Any person lost to this crisis is one too many.

We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackle this emergency with the urgency it demands.

Today, we are going to hear from a number of New Mexicans that are experiencing this crisis up close. 

That includes Desiree Bustos, who I met last year during a conversation with health providers in the Española Valley, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, Las Cruces Police Chief Jeremy Story, and Santa Fe Fire Department Assistant Chief Sten Johnson for joining us today. 

In so many ways, these New Mexicans are on the front lines of this crisis.  

My work in Congress is to make sure they are getting the tools and legislative support they need for the work they do day in and day out. 

That starts with the important step of permanently scheduling fentanyl-related substances as a Schedule I Controlled Substances.

The way that we schedule substances sends a clear signal to the public about how dangerous they are.

And it creates a clear criminal deterrent to would be bad actors.

The way we have scheduled certain substances has not always aligned correctly or kept up with how dangerous substances are.

I have been clear—for instance—that cannabis should no longer be scheduled as a Schedule I substance.

But the deadly impact that illicit fentanyl has had on so many Americans shows that this substance clearly warrants our highest level of scheduling.

Back in 2018, the DEA issued a temporary scheduling order that placed fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. 

In the years since, Congress has extended this temporary scheduling order several times.

The current scheduling expires at the end of this year.

I think it’s obvious to all of us that illicit fentanyl is overdue to be permanently scheduled.

That’s why I’m working on new, bipartisan legislation that will finally, permanently schedule illicit fentanyl and its analogues as Schedule I drugs. 

This will help law enforcement crack down on the rise in illicit fentanyl trafficking.

And it will help prosecutors, like our Attorney General, build strong, long-term criminal cases against those who are bringing these substances into our communities.

The legislation I am working on would also reduce barriers to doing research on fentanyl-related substances and help us develop more effective treatments.

Treatments for both patients who need prescribed opioid medications to manage pain and for people in recovery from opioid addiction.

Finally, it would also establish a process for rescheduling fentanyl-related substances that are proven to have a legitimate medical use.

Passing this legislation before the end of this year when the Schedule I status for fentanyl-related substances expires is a top priority.

At the same time, I am proud to have already successfully delivered substantial investments to help New Mexicans on the front lines of the fentanyl crisis.

Earlier this month, I was able to secure major investments through our Appropriations bills.

That includes more than 1 million dollars to help law enforcement agencies in New Mexico purchase equipment to safely identify fentanyl and other illicit substances.

In order to find effective solutions to stem the flow of these substances into our communities, we also need to develop a more accurate understanding of where they are coming from.

That’s why I wrote and successfully secured a provision in the Appropriations Bill to require the DEA to develop a comprehensive, nationwide fentanyl tracking system.

This new, comprehensive tracking system will be critical to better understanding the movement of illicit drugs into and within the United States and more effectively combatting the fentanyl drug epidemic.

The system will track and document where fentanyl is seized, the chemical composition of seized substances, probable or known manufacturing locations, and probable or known points of entry into the United States.

I am also working to pass bipartisan legislation in Congress to cut off the illicit supply of fentanyl that is flooding into our communities from China and Mexico.

In February, the Senate passed a major National Security Supplemental that will strengthen border security and help stop the flow of fentanyl before it hits our southern border.

That bill included the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that I cosponsored to confront the money laundering and seize the financial resources of the overseas criminal enterprises that are flooding our communities with illicit fentanyl.

And that’s one of many reasons that it’s past time for House Republicans to take up and pass the National Security Supplemental.

But I am proud to announce that the Department of Homeland Security funding bill that we are voting on this week includes more than $400 million for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detect and seize fentanyl at our ports of entry.

This funding will help us install more non-intrusive inspection equipment and increase the percentage of inbound vehicles we are able to scan for illicit substances. 

We will also be able to scan more outbound vehicles for the cash and firearms that are fueling fentanyl and illicit drug trafficking operations.

Finally, as I am doing this work to get fentanyl out of our communities, I’m also committed to delivering the resources that will help people in our communities recover from substance use dependence and survive fentanyl overdoses. 

I was proud to secure new language in the Appropriations bill directing the DEA to further remove barriers to access for opioid use disorder medications—like buprenorphine.

Last year, I sat down with health care providers in the Española Valley who are helping New Mexicans recover from substance use disorder.

They told me that bureaucratic hurdles were leading to drastically limited access to buprenorphine—a proven, lifesaving medication for opioid use disorder.

The language I secured in the Appropriations bill clarifies the difference between suspicious orders of opioids and suspicious orders of buprenorphine in the DEA’s Report System. 

This will make it much easier for local medical and mental health providers to prescribe effective treatment for more New Mexicans struggling with addiction.

These new resources will make a real difference.

But there is still so much more we need to do.

And I won’t stop fighting until we deliver the resources our law enforcement officers, first responders, medical providers, and New Mexicans on the front lines need to address this deadly epidemic.