Due to the increased use of illicit fentanyl mixed with heroin and used in counterfeit prescription drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed all illicit fentanyl analogues not already regulated by the Controlled Substances Act into Schedule I.
Illicit fentanyl analogues are now Schedule 1 drugs —the category for substances with no currently accepted medical use—for two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. The ruling was effective starting February 6.
“By proactively scheduling the whole class of illicit fentanyl substances simultaneously, federal agents and prosecutors can take swift and necessary action against those bringing this poison into our communities,” said DEA Acting Administrator Robert W. Patterson, in a DEA statement.
A fentanyl analogue is substantially similar in its chemical makeup and effects to fentanyls already listed in Schedule I.
Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin and other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine or used in counterfeit pharmaceutical prescription drugs, according to DEA. “As a consequence, users who buy these substances on the illicit market are often unaware of the specific substance they are actually consuming and the associated risk,” the agency said.
With the new scheduling, anyone who possesses, imports, distributes, or manufactures any illicit fentanyl analogue will be subject to criminal prosecution in the same manner as for fentanyl and other controlled substances. “This will make it easier for federal prosecutors and agents to prosecute traffickers of all forms of fentanyl-related substances,” DEA said.
Drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), such as fentanyl and tramadol, increased from 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015, according to the CDC.
While DEA has issued eight temporary scheduling orders to control substances structurally related to fentanyl since 2015, “this approach has not been completely effective in preventing the emergence of new substances structurally related to fentanyl,” the agency said in a Federal Register notice.