Legislation aims to declare fentanyl trafficking a national emergency, increase sanctions

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate this week aims to expand the federal government’s authority to impose sanctions on opioid traffickers, with a particular emphasis on fentanyl. The FEND Off Fentanyl Act would call for a national emergency to be declared over fentanyl trafficking.

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 71,000 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids such as fentanyl in 2021, up from almost 58,000 in 2020. Provisional data from the CDC shows more than 100,000 Americans died overall from drug overdoses in 2022.

Mexico and China are the primary source countries for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. While the Treasury Department has already imposed sanctions on some fentanyl producers and traffickers,  this legislation would require the President to sanction transnational criminal organizations and drug cartel key members involved in fentanyl trafficking, including Chinese suppliers of precursor chemicals, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, and others.

The proposed legislation also enables the Treasury Department to investigate potential money laundering linked to opioid trafficking.

Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the bill.

“This bipartisan bill will add effective new sanctions to target the illicit fentanyl supply chain, from China through Mexico, to help stop increasingly dangerous forms of this drug before they ever reach our communities,” Brown said in a statement.