by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Co-Chairman, Senate Caucus on
International Narcotics Control
Hearing on Federal
Government Response to the Overdose Epidemic
Tuesday, July 20,
93,000. That’s how many people died from drug overdoses last
year. This is the sharpest annual increase in 30 years. The New York Times wrote
that 2020’s overdose death numbers eclipsed the peak yearly deaths from car
crashes, gun violence and the AIDS epidemic. This is astonishing.
No region was spared last year. Every corner of the United
States suffered an increased death toll. The main culprits? COVID-19 and deadly fentanyl
So today’s hearing is timely because it’s urgent that we evaluate
our federal approach to this drug crisis. COVID-19 played a significant role in the
increased drug overdose rates. The pandemic brought about social isolation,
trauma, and job losses, and made necessary tools – like access to treatment –
Data shows us that overdoses took off in March 2020, when
pandemic-driven shutdowns and physical-distancing measures began. We must learn
how to navigate drug policy in a post-COVID world. What lessons did we learn?
How can we improve? These are questions I want answers to.
Also, fentanyl analogues are driving up the death toll. According
to Customs and Border Patrol, the amount of fentanyl and its analogues seized so
far this fiscal year nearly doubles what was seized in all of 2020. This statistic
alone should be enough to compel serious long-term action on controlling deadly
fentanyl related substances.
Drug dealers often mix fentanyl with other drugs like meth,
cocaine, and marijuana. Traffickers prey on those suffering with addiction by
adding deadly analogues to other drugs. Sometimes users know that they’re
consuming a fentanyl substance, but sometimes they don’t. In any event, the data speaks for itself:
polydrug abuse – mainly due to fentanyl substances – is a driver of overdose
So at a time of record drug abuse and death, where should our
I recently outlined in a letter to the Office of National Drug
Control Policy what I think must be prioritized in a federal approach to drug
policy. Among other things, I highlighted the need to build a plan to deal with
historic levels of methamphetamine supply and use, that we need to address
polysubstance trafficking, and we must proactively address fentanyl analogues.
The authority to schedule fentanyl substances expires in
October. The Administration must support efforts to proactively and permanently
schedule fentanyl analogues. To do anything less will surely enable the spread
and scourge of these deadly drugs.
I’m grateful that Acting Director LaBelle invited me to weigh
in on the National Drug Control Strategy and am pleased to have her testify today.
We must work together in a whole-of-government approach to assess gaps in
policy so we can tackle this crisis.
Simply put, it’s a matter of life and death. 93,000 Americans lost
their lives last year because of the rampant scourge of drugs in our country. This
Thank you again to today’s witnesses for being here. I look
forward to hearing about how we can work together to strengthen our approach
and combat the drug overdose epidemic.