The opioid crisis continues to be a challenge, both from a public health and from a criminal justice perspective. Last week, President Trump's commission on the opioid crisis called for several new measures to deal with the worst drug crisis in American history.
The commission recommended additional training for doctors, penalties for insurers that refuse to cover addiction treatment, and more extensive use of drug courts, among 56 total recommendations. The commission, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, had also urged the President to declare a national emergency.
Trump responded by declaring a national public health emergency, which gives the Department of Health and Human Services authority to access a public health emergency fund. Unfortunately, that fund contains only $57,000 and hasn't been replenished in years.
"It's now incumbent on Congress to step up and put money in the public health emergency fund," said Christie.
Of particular interest, the commission urged the creation of drug courts in all 93 federal court districts. Drug courts allow drug offenders to have their convictions or sentences reduced or waived in exchange for successful participation in a monitored drug treatment program. In this way, courts prioritize treatment over punishment and keep people suffering from addiction from being pointlessly incarcerated.
Among the other recommendations was passage of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, which would condition federal grants upon states sharing information on users of narcotics in a national database.
AB 335 passes, criminalizing drugs similar to fentanyl
In Wisconsin, Assembly Bill 335 was passed into law. It makes small changes to existing law to ensure that all types of fentanyl are covered by Wisconsin's controlled substance schedules. Governor Scott Walker signed it into law on Friday, a day after a bipartisan group of legislators passed the bill.
Supporters say that the changes make it more difficult for dealers of fentanyl to make small changes to the drug's chemical makeup in order to keep their product off the schedules. If dealers are able to do this, they could theoretically be selling opioids that are perfectly legal despite being chemically similar to fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a prescription drug that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin.
It's not entirely clear whether ordinary drug dealers are sophisticated enough to manufacture fentanyl, much less drugs that are chemically similar to it. However, the bill will ensure that any who have such capabilities can be prosecuted under the same statute that regulates fentanyl.