March 1, 2023

The Honorable Andy Biggs
Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee
Ranking Member
Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Biggs, Ranking Member Jackson Lee and members of the subcommittee:

Thank you for your decision to hold a hearing on March 1, 2023, titled “The Fentanyl Crisis in America: Inaction is No Longer an Option.” My name is Jillian E. Snider, and I am the policy director of criminal justice and civil liberties at the R Street Institute (R Street). R Street is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization based in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas, including the criminal justice system.

In addition to my current role at R Street, I am also a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired police officer from the New York City Police Department. This hearing comes at a critical time, as the tragic public safety and public health implications of the fentanyl crisis are felt across the country. Effective and apolitical solutions are needed.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.[1] Fentanyl overdoses have become a crisis in our country, with more deaths than ever before attributed to the drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids is more than 18 times what it was a decade ago. In 2020, fentanyl accounted for 82 percent of all opioid-related deaths.[2] Alongside overdoses, fentanyl interdictions at the U.S. southern border have skyrocketed, with seizures in San Diego alone up by approximately 323 percent in the last three years.[3]

The consequences of fentanyl addiction in the United States are devastating, including increased crime, health care costs and overdose deaths. From its sources to its solutions, the fentanyl crisis is complex, and, as such, will require a multifaceted policy approach that differentiates between addicts and traffickers. R Street supports sensible drug policies that treat fentanyl overdoses like a public health crisis instead of a criminal one, yet holds those responsible for illicit trafficking accountable as criminals. Such an approach can also create disincentives for trafficking and dealing supplies of other drugs that have been mixed with fentanyl and thus made more deadly.

Some key strategies for fighting fentanyl and other synthetic opioids include:

●   Law enforcement agencies should prioritize dismantling fentanyl trafficking organizations, targeting their distribution networks, disrupting their supply chains and seizing their assets.

●   Congress should encourage inter-agency cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Increasing the chances that traffickers are prosecuted and sent to prison can deter importation and distribution of the drug, thereby reducing the supply of fentanyl on the streets.

●   Law enforcement should ramp up the testing of seized drugs and tracking of overdose trends to identify and monitor new opioid analogs and emerging drug variants. This will allow the Drug Enforcement Agency to distinguish which substances are actually dangerous and need to be controlled, instead of blanket scheduling, which undermines legitimate research and risks exacerbating mass incarceration.

●   Criminal justice and public health officials should partner on efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of fentanyl. This could include overdose prevention training for police officers, as well as educating the public on the safe disposal of prescription opioids.

●   Criminal justice and public health officials should prioritize treatment and diversion programs for individuals struggling with addiction to fentanyl and other opioids. This could include expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, increasing access to drug courts and offering alternative sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders.[4]

●   Harm reduction strategies, such as overdose prevention centers and syringe service programs, should be considered as effective interventions.[5]

●   Fentanyl test stripsand naloxone should be madeavailable over the counter to empower lifesaving interventions that prevent overdoses.[6] Furthermore, the widespread use of fentanyl test strips may deter traffickers and dealers by empowering their customers to reliably know whether the product they buy contains fentanyl or an analog thereof.

This is not a crisis we can solve solely within our own borders. While domestic production has been increasing in recent years, most of the fentanyl causing American overdoses is still produced outsidethe United States.[7] International cartels are driven by profit, and the trafficking of dangerous drugs like fentanyl is their main source of revenue. I urge Congress to work with international partners as well, particularly China and Mexico, to reduce the flow of fentanyl into the United States.

In conclusion, fentanyl is a significant criminal justice and public health crisis requiring an urgent whole-of-government approach. I urge Congress to support disrupting traffickers; increasing interagency collaboration; enhancing drug education and prevention programs; and increasing access to treatment and harm reduction strategies. I believe that by working together, we can better protect public safety, decrease the number of fentanyl overdoses and save lives.

Chairman Biggs, Ranking Member Jackson Lee and members of the subcommittee, thank you again for holding this important hearing and for your consideration of my views. Should you have any questions or wish to have further discussion, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Jillian E. Snider
Policy Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties
R Street Institute

Watch the hearing here. (Remarks begin at 3:33:53):

[1] “Fentanyl,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 1, 2022.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Adam Gordon, “Fentanyl Seizures at Border Continue to Spike, Making San Diego a National Epicenter for Fentanyl Trafficking,” United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California, Aug. 12, 2022.

[4] Michelle Mancher and Alan I. Leshner, eds., Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives (National Academies Press, 2019).

[5] Chelsea Boyd, “The Policy Landscape of Overdose Prevention Centers in the United States,” R Street Institute, Oct. 12, 2022.; Stacey McKenna and Diane M. Goldstein, “How Harm Reduction Can Help Win the Fight Against Opioids,” R Street Institute, Oct. 28, 2021.

[6] Stacey McKenna, “Five Things to Know About Fentanyl Test Strips,” R Street Institute, Aug. 20, 2021.; Stacey McKenna, “Make naloxone available over the counter,” R Street Institute, Feb. 1, 2023.

[7] “National Interdiction Command and Control Plan,” The White House, Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy, last accessed Feb. 27, 2023.