No products in the cart.
WASHINGTON — President Biden called Tuesday for fentanyl to be banned for all uses in the United States by making it a Schedule I drug, which would bar it from common medical applications — before aides clarified that he only wanted a ban on fentanyl-related compounds.
About 200,000 Americans have died during Biden’s term from synthetic opioids, shipped largely from China, and Biden made the remark while seeking to put the ball back in Congress’s court after criticism from Republicans.
“Look, I also urge Congress to permanently make fentanyl and related substances Schedule I drugs,” Biden said at a White House meeting with executive branch officials following a summit last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping — who agreed to a crackdown on exports of the drugs, even though his prior pledges didn’t slow the surge in US overdoses.
Biden has stoked outrage with prior imprecise remarks about the crisis, including a trio of errors in January and February when he twice misstated the US death toll and incorrectly described fentanyl’s potency.
“He is either clueless about this deadly crisis or simply doesn’t care,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted earlier this year after one of the factual errors.
Fentanyl has a specific chemical formula — C22H28N2O — and like cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning it can be legally used with medical authorization to treat pain. Schedule I drugs are defined as having no allowed medical use and cannot be prescribed.
Biden administration officials clarified to The Post that he was not actually calling for a ban on fentanyl, but for Congress to make permanent a 2018 emergency action that declared fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs.
The administration aides insisted to The Post that the president didn’t misspeak when he called on Congress to make fentanyl a Schedule I drug because, they said, he was thinking about illicit street fentanyl, which may or may not contain fentanyl-related substances.
Related substances have slightly different chemical compositions, which in the past allowed traffickers to avoid penalties.
In recent weeks, Biden has increased his focus on fentanyl and in recent remarks has said he knows multiple families who have had a relative die from synthetic opioids, which are generally smuggled into the country rather than diverted from domestic medical supplies.
“Too many are going to face looking at an empty chair for the first time at Thanksgiving because so many people have died. It’s heartbreaking. It really is an American tragedy,” Biden said Tuesday.
“I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to get this crisis under control,” he said.
Biden also urged Congress to approve $1.2 billion for fentanyl-screening equipment as part of a larger funding request in which he is seeking $14.3 billion to finance Israel’s war with Hamas and $61.4 billion to back Ukraine in its war with Russia.
One official said that Biden’s remark about making fentanyl a Schedule I drug was “not news” and that “what we are addressing here is illicitly produced and trafficked fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which are Schedule I.”
Another Biden administration official, who specializes in the subject matter, told The Post that he didn’t consider Biden’s words inaccurate.
“When the president speaks about either fentanyl-related substances or fentanyl and related substances — it’s interchangeable, I use both of them all the time interchangeably,” the second official said.
Data on fentanyl and its analogues and their respective contribution to record-high deaths is murky and often outdated.
“Currency is one of the kind of bigger issues that we have is because it takes a while to test these things. …Here we are in 2023, depending on what you’re trying to get, data could be one to two years old just because it takes a long time for labs,” the second official said.
Some fentanyl-related compounds, such as acetyl fentanyl — whose chemical formula, C21H26N2O, has one fewer carbon atoms and two fewer hydrogen atoms — can only be distinguished from fentanyl with secondary testing using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.
Data from a group of 10 states collected through 2018 show that fentanyl analogues were detected in a large share of overdose deaths, as well as that the specific variants differed over time.
It’s unclear how the 2018 scheduling of fentanyl-related compounds may have altered their illicit flow in the past five years.
CDC data on synthetic opioid deaths does not say whether fentanyl, a related compound or both were detected, or if not enough information was available.
Preliminary national data show that about 76,000 Americans died of synthetic opioids in 2022 — an all-time record up from about 72,000 in 2021 and 58,000 in 2020.
The CDC projects that monthly deaths from synthetic opioids continued to hit new monthly highs in the first half of 2023.
Xi’s commitment to crack down on exports has been met with skepticism — after former President Donald Trump previously boasted that he had convinced the Chinese leader to impose a severe crackdown including the execution of exporters, only for overdose deaths to continue to rise during his own presidency.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing Monday that “[Xi] has said he was going to be personally responsible for stemming the flow of these chemicals out of China, and we’re grateful for that.”
“That’s going to take a little bit of time as he goes back to Beijing and puts those processes in place — those law enforcement actions,” Kirby added.