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Matt Sutton 212-613-8026 email@example.com
The Overdose Crisis Needs a Public Health Response. Yet, House Doubles Down on Failed Drug War Policies for Fentanyl
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Halt All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl (HALT) Act (H.R. 467) in a 289-133 vote. This legislation would ramp up mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl analogues. It would also permanently schedule all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I without first testing them for benefits or harm.
By putting fentanyl-related substances on Schedule I, they are criminalized the most harshly. Under this legislation, fentanyl-related substances are assumed harmful, and people will be criminalized regardless of the science. Of the few fentanyl-related substances tested on a limited basis by the FDA, at least one showed properties similar to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone. Others were found to be completely harmless and should never have been classified as Schedule I.
This bill also expands mandatory minimums for fentanyl analogue cases, hearkening back to failed drug war strategies of the past. Criminalization has led to a stronger, more potent illicit drug supply. Yet, members of Congress continue to double down on the disproven, failed approach of drug prohibition at the expense of people’s lives.
In response, the following non-partisan civil rights, public health, drug policy, faith, law enforcement, criminal legal reform, and public policy research organizations released the below statements:
Maritza Perez Medina, Director of the Office of Federal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance:
“Our communities deserve real health solutions to the overdose crisis, not political grandstanding that is going to cost us more lives. Yet, sadly, in passing the HALT Fentanyl Act, the House seems intent on doubling down on the same failed strategies that got us here to begin with. While it may seem politically expedient to crack down on fentanyl and its analogues, history has shown us time and again, this only creates further harm. Increasing criminal penalties and expanding the use of mandatory minimums, as this bill does, has never reduced the supply or demand of illicit drugs. Instead, it only exacerbates racial disparities in the criminal legal system and creates the conditions for an even more unknown, and more potent, drug supply to flourish. We call on the Senate to reject these dangerous efforts and act quickly to implement the health solutions we urgently need to save lives.”
Laura Pitter, Deputy Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch:
“It’s sad to see lawmakers revert to over-criminalization once again when we have 50 years of evidence that the war on drugs has been an abject failure. A vote for this bill was a vote against evidence and science. We know that harsher criminal penalties have done nothing to address the overdose crisis, which has only gotten exponentially worse since Congress put the temporary class-wide scheduling policy into place. This now makes that policy permanent and not only entrenches mandatory minimums but expands them. It will also undermine efforts by scientists to find solutions for problematic substance use and discourage people who drugs who want help from seeking it because they will face harsh penalties.”
Lt. Diane Goldstein (Ret.), Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership:
“I lost my brother to an overdose, so I understand the pain that so many families in our country are feeling during this crisis. As a retired police professional, I know that increasing penalties for fentanyl will cost us more lives because people will be even more afraid to call 911 if they see someone succumbing to overdose for fear of a long prison sentence. Mandatory minimums punish low-level drug offenders rather than providing the treatment they so often need. We should be focusing all of our efforts on making public health interventions accessible to save lives, not doubling down on the strategy that brought us to where we are today."
Marta Nelson, Director of Government Strategy, Advocacy and Partnerships, at the Vera Institute of Justice:
"Fentanyl and other deadly drugs pose a real threat to the health and safety of our communities, but Congress must invest in public health solutions rather than the ineffective harsh sentences and mandatory minimums we have relied on in the past. By permanently scheduling fentanyl-related substances as Schedule 1, the HALT Fentanyl Act relies on that old mandatory minimum playbook, which contributes to mass incarceration and does not prevent substance use. We must reject so-called tough sentencing policies and instead lift up solutions-based policymaking that addresses the root causes of substance use and saves lives.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“We know what keeps us safe: living in communities where all of us can provide for our families and build the future we want. The classwide scheduling that this bill imposes will exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge. Classwide scheduling and mandatory minimums merely repeat the mistakes of the past by magnifying our incarceration problem.”
Liz Komar, Sentencing Reform Counsel, The Sentencing Project:
“Fifty years after the beginning of mass incarceration, the evidence is clear: the War on Drugs has harmed communities. Harsh punishments don’t save lives or make us safer. We urge Congress to remember the lessons of the 1980’s and 1990’s – mandatory minimums are not the answer to the overdose crisis.”
Drew Gibson, Director of Advocacy, AIDS United:
“Any hope that we have of ending the overdose, HIV, and viral hepatitis epidemics in the United States lies in an embrace of evidence-based best practices and a rejection of the punitive and racially inequitable policies that have destroyed millions of lives over the last half century. Passage of the HALT Fentanyl Act and the draconian expansion of mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl related substances contained in it would be a reckless repetition of the costly mistakes of the war on drugs that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities and creates the conditions for even more harmful illicit substances to enter the drug supply.”
Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution and a former federal prosecutor:
“Our country has spent half a century trying to treat drug-related harms with fear and punishment. The dismal results are clear: these draconian policies ballooned our prison population even as the number of annual drug-related deaths grew exponentially. Recent, tragic increases in fentanyl-related deaths have underscored the urgent need to adopt evidence-based, effective drug policies. Yet the enactment of the HALT Fentanyl Act would signal to the world that our government has learned nothing from the catastrophic failures of the War on Drugs, stymie harm reduction efforts that save lives, and funnel more people into what is among the largest prison systems in the world.”
Last week, a coalition (which includes the aforementioned organizations) of advocacy groupssent a letter to House leadership urging them to reject this proposal and instead support public health approaches like the Support, Treatment, and Overdose Prevention of Fentanyl (STOP Fentanyl) Act of 2021 (H.R. 2366) and the Test Act. The STOP Fentanyl Act proposes increased access to harm reduction services and substance use disorder treatment, improved data collection, and other evidence-based methods to reduce overdose. The TEST Act would require the federal government to test all fentanyl-related substances that are currently classified as Schedule I substances and remove those that are proven medically beneficial or otherwise unharmful. It would also require the attorney general to notify any person who has been wrongly convicted, or sentenced, of the change.
For more information on fentanyl and why we need a public health approach to address the overdose crisis, visitdrugpolicy.org/fentanylfentanyl.
The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.(212) 613-8020
"These bills are not about election reform," said one Harris County official. "They are entirely about suppressing voters' voices."
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Sunday warned that Republican state legislators had made a "shameless power grab" by passing a pair of bills aimed at allowing the state government to take control of elections in the Democratic stronghold, which includes Houston.
Senate Bill 1933 passed on Sunday as the state's legislative session came to a close, with lawmakers sending to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott's desk a bill that could give Secretary of State Jane Nelson—who was nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate—the authority to run elections under circumstances in any county with more than 3.5 million residents.
The legislation was passed two days after Senate Bill 1750, which also applies to counties above that population threshold and would abolish the nonpartisan county elections administrator position.
Harris County, which President Joe Biden won by 13 points in 2020, is the only county is Texas with a population above 3.5 million, making both bills apply only to its elections.
Hidalgo denounced the legislation as two "election subversion bills" and warned that they will set a "dangerous precedent" for Republican governors who wish to take control of voting in heavily Democratic counties.
\u201cThe two Texas election subversion bills have now passed. They remove Harris County\u2019s nonpartisan Election Administrator and empower a Republican state official to micromanage elections in Texas\u2019 largest (Democratic) County. This is a shameless power grab and dangerous precedent.\u201d— Lina Hidalgo (@Lina Hidalgo) 1685331039
"These bills are not about election reform," said Hidalgo at a press conference last week, as the legislation was advancing. "They're not about improving voters' experience. They are entirely about suppressing voters' voices. The reasoning behind these bills is nothing but a cynical charade."
Hidalgo and other officials said at that event that they plan to file a lawsuit against Abbott's administration if the governor signs the bills into law. The Texas Constitution bars state lawmakers from passing laws that apply only to specific jurisdictions, but Republicans' use of a population threshold instead of naming Harris County itself in the legislation may be used at their defense if the lawsuit moves forward.
S.B. 1750 requires Harris County to change how its elections are overseen starting September 1, when Houston will be two months away from voting for its next mayor. Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and County Assessor Ann Harris Bennett will oversee elections in the county starting in September.
If, after Hudspeth and Bennett take over, Nelson finds "good cause to believe that a recurring pattern of problems with election administration or voter registration exists in the county," the secretary of state would be permitted to take legal action to remove the two women from office and to install members of her staff in the county's election offices.
Republicans have said Harris County didn't have enough poll workers in the March 2022 primary and that polling locations opened late and ran out of ballots during the November 2022 general election.
"The fact of the matter is, there has not been a single successful lawsuit that proves that there were any kind of problems," said Hidalgo on Sunday. "And I hope that anybody talking about this understands that you are amplifying exaggerations and rumors when you repeat the excuses that these folks are using."
\u201cAs intriguing as an impeachment of the Texas Attorney General is, we can\u2019t lose sight of the fact that legislators in Texas are still trying to disenfranchise 4.7 million of their own constituents by taking over elections in Harris County. This fight is far from over.\u201d— Lina Hidalgo (@Lina Hidalgo) 1685308988
The legislation was passed two-and-a-half months after Abbott's administration announced its takeover of the Houston Independent School District, which has made recent improvements in academic performance that were achieved despite chronic underfunding.
"Houstonians," Emily Eby French, a staff voting rights attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said last week, "will soon live in a different Texas than the rest of us."
"Erdoğan's victory will consolidate one-man rule and pave the way for horrible practices, bringing completely dark days for all parts of society," warned one Kurdish opposition leader.
As supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at home and abroad celebrated his win of Sunday's runoff election, human rights defenders and marginalized people including Kurds and LGBTQ+ activists voiced deep fears about how their lives will be adversely affected during the increasingly authoritarian leader's third term.
Turkey's Supreme Election Council confirmed Erdoğan's victory over Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Sunday evening. Erdoğan, the 69-year-old leader of the right-wing Justice and Development Party who has ruled the nation of 85 million people since 2014 and dominated its politics for two decades, won 52.18% of the vote. Kılıçdaroğlu, a 74-year-old social democrat who leads the left-of-center Republican People's Party, received 47.82%.
Erdoğan—who was seen handing out cash to supporters at a polling station in an apparent violation of Turkish election law—mocked his opponent's loss outside the president's home in Istanbul, saying, "Bye, bye, bye, Kemal" as the winner's supporters booed, according to Al Jazeera.
\u201cInstead of congratulating Erdogan, EU leaders should ask about the backsliding democratic and human rights. \n\nTurkey is already 103rd of 167 countries on democracy index, and we know Erdogan wants to take it further down...\u201d— Guy Verhofstadt (@Guy Verhofstadt) 1685354462
"The only winner today is Turkey," Erdoğan declared as he prepared for a third term in which his country faces severe economic woes—inflation has soared and the lira is at a record low against the U.S. dollar—and is struggling to recover from multiple devastating earthquakes earlier this year.
However, in Turkish Kurdistan—whose voters, along with a majority of people in most of Turkey's largest cities favored Kılıçdaroğlu—people expressed fears that the government will intensify a crackdown it has been waging for several years.
Ardelan Mese, a 26-year-old cafe owner in Diyarbakir, the country's largest Kurdish-majority city, called Sunday's election "a matter of life and death now."
"I can't imagine what he will be capable of after declaring victory," Mese said of Erdoğan in an interview with Reuters.
After initially courting the Kurds by expanding their political and cultural rights, Erdoğan returned to the repression that has long characterized Turkey's treatment of a people who make up one-fifth of the nation's population, while intensifying a war against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a far-left separatist group that Turkey, the United States, and other nations consider a terrorist organization.
\u201cKurds fear that an Erdogan victory "could reinforce a crackdown the state has been waging against them for years, alarmed by a surge in nationalist rhetoric ahead of Sunday's vote." https://t.co/aAhHVqjmf4\u201d— Kenneth Roth (@Kenneth Roth) 1685018787
"Erdogan's victory will consolidate one-man rule and pave the way for horrible practices, bringing completely dark days for all parts of society," Tayip Temel, the deputy co-chair of Turkey's second-largest opposition party, the center-left and pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP)—which backed Kılıçdaroğlu—told Reuters.
Human rights defenders—many of whom have chosen or been forced into exile—also sounded the alarm over the prospect of a third Erdoğan term.
"If the opposition wins there will be space, even possibly limited, for discussions for a common future. With Erdoğan, there is no civic or political space for democracy and human rights," Murat Çelikkan, a journalist who founded human rights groups including Amnesty International Turkey, said in an interview with Civil Rights Defenders just before Sunday's runoff.
Çelikkan called Erdoğan a "very authoritarian, religious, pro-expansionist conservative."
"Turkey, according to judicial statistics, has the largest number of terrorists in the world, because the prosecutors and judges have an inclination to use anti-terror laws arbitrarily and lavishly," he continued. "There are tens of thousands of people who are being trialed or convicted by anti-terror laws. Thousands of people insulting the president."
\u201cToday #Turkey is holding a presidential election runoff. But what is at stake?\n\nRead the interview with Murat \u00c7elikkan, human rights defender from Turkey, about possible impact of the election outcome on #HumanRights:\n\nhttps://t.co/7a8HTEELUp\u201d— Civil Rights Defenders (@Civil Rights Defenders) 1685253600
"Nowhere in Turkey you can make a peaceful demonstration and protest," Çelikkan added. "The security forces directly attack and detain you. The minister of interior targets and criminalizes LGBTI+ people on a daily basis."
LGBTQ+ Turks voiced fears for their future following a campaign in which Erdoğan centered homophobia in his appeals to an overwhelmingly Muslim electorate and repeatedly accused Kılıçdaroğlu and other opposition figures of being gay. During his victory speech Sunday evening, Erdoğan again lashed out at the LGBTQ+ community while excoriating Kılıçdaroğlu for his campaign pledge to "respect everyone's beliefs, lifestyles, and identities."
Erdoğan vowed in his speech that gays would not "infiltrate" Turkey and that "we will not let the LGBT forces win." At one point during his address, an Al Jazeera interpreter stopped translating a 45-second portion when the president called members of the opposition gay.
\u201cDuring his victory speech President Erdo\u011fan repeated: \u201cWe will not let the LGBT forces win!\u201d. \n\nHe then emphasised \u201cLGBT cannot infiltrate among us. We will be reborn. The family is sacred for us. The violence against women is forbidden and haram for us, no one can resort to this\u2026\u201d— \u2022 (@\u2022) 1685309623
Ilker Erdoğan, a 20-year-old university student and LGBTQ+ activist, told Agence France-Presse that "I feel deeply afraid."
"Feeling so afraid is affecting my psychology terribly. I couldn't breathe before, and now they will try to strangle my throat," he added. "From the moment I was born, I felt that discrimination, homophobia, and hatred in my bones."
Ameda Murat Karaguzu, a project assistant at an unnamed pro-LGBTQ+ group, told AFP that she has been "subjected to more hate speech and acts of hate than I have experienced in a long time."
Karaguzu blamed Erdoğan's government for the increasing hostility toward LGBTQ+ Turks, adding that bigots are keenly "aware that there will be no consequences for killing or harming us."
Ilker Erdoğan struck a defiant tone, telling AFP that "I am also part of this nation, my identity card says Turkish citizen."
"You cannot erase my existence," he added, "no matter how hard you try."
"There are too many Americans trying to survive and raise families on $9, $10, or $12 an hour," said the senator. "This injustice must end."
On the heels of launching an effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour over five years, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday announced upcoming rallies to demand the pay hike in three states, where he will be joined by Bishop William Barber II.
Barber—Repairers of the Breach president, Poor People's Campaign co-chair, and founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School—plans to join Sanders (I-Vt.) to "make the moral case for raising wages."
Sanders and Barber are first headed to Durham, North Carolina, where they are set to be joined by Democratic Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam—who worked for the senator's 2016 presidential campaign—for a 7:00 pm ET rally at the Hayti Heritage Center on June 1.
The pair then plans to visit the Henderson A. Johnson Memorial Gymnasium at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee at 7:00 pm CT on June 2. State Rep. Justin Jones (D-52)—who gained national attention earlier this year for being expelled by GOP legislators over a protest demanding gun control, only to be promptly reinstated by Nashville's Metropolitan Council—is expected to join them.
A third rally hosted by the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 at their union hall in Charleston, South Carolina is scheduled for 4:00 pm ET on June 3. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-111) plans to join the event, in partnership with the South Carolina AFL-CIO.
"Low-income workers need a pay raise and the American people want them to get that raise."
A longtime advocate of increasing the U.S. minimum wage, Sanders and labor leaders announced their push for $17 per hour earlier this month. Though several states have set higher minimums, the federal rate of $7.25 hasn't changed since 2009.
"At a time of massive and growing income and wealth inequality and record-breaking corporate profits, we must stand up for working families—many of whom are struggling every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families," Sanders—who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee—said Monday.
"There are too many Americans trying to survive and raise families on $9, $10, or $12 an hour. It cannot be done. This injustice must end," he added. "Low-income workers need a pay raise and the American people want them to get that raise."
The progressive think tank Data for Progress last week released polling results that show 76% of likely voters across party lines would support a $17 hourly minimum wage—and 74% would support $20.
The survey, conducted in early May, also revealed that all likely voters believe Americans need to earn $26.20 per hour "to have a decent quality of life (that is, the ability to afford basic necessities such as groceries, rent or mortgage payments, transportation, and other essential bills without struggling)."
\u201c$26 per hour: The wage voters think you need to earn to have a decent quality of life in the U.S.\n\n$7.25 per hour: The current federal minimum wage.\u201d— abby springs (@abby springs) 1684955759
Plans for the rally series come after researchers at the University of California, Berkeley kicked off May by putting out a working paper that shows significant minimum wage increases can have positive effects on earnings and employment—countering claims from corporate lobbying groups that oppose such pay hikes.
While Sanders has the power to ensure his panel takes up the issue, legislation to increase the minimum wage nationwide is unlikely to reach President Joe Biden's desk, given the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Senate that still includes
Democrats who partnered with the GOP in 2021 to block a measure that would have mandated a $15 hourly rate.