52 attorneys general urge congress to close loophole in federal drug laws

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — The Attorneys General of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico signed a letter on Thursday urging congress to pass legislation aimed at closing a deadly loophole in federal law being exploited by illegal drug traffickers.

“Drug traffickers are constantly coming up with new chemical compositions that are more deadly but may be different enough that they don’t constitute an illegal opioid under the Controlled Substances Act,” said Alaska attorney general Jahna Lindemuth in a written statement.

Thursday's letter lends widespread bipartisan support to the Stopping Overdoses from Fentanyl Analogues Act, commonly referred to as the SOFA Act. The house version of the bill, HR 4922, was introduced in February and has since languished in committee. A senate version was introduced in July.

The SOFA act would allow the Drug Enforcement Agency to proactively criminalize new kinds of fentanyl, making it easier to prosecute traffickers.

“The SOFA Act will close the loophole at the federal level and ensure traffickers will be held accountable,” Lindemuth wrote.

RELATED: Opioid deaths at an all-time high in Alaska, across the country

Fentanyl, a drug much stronger than heroin, contributed to 76 percent of Alaska’s synthetic opioid-related deaths in 2017. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jay Butler, says new types of fentanyl end up on the streets fairly often.

“They seem to show up every few weeks and it doesn’t take a hi-tech chemistry lab to be able to do some of the tweaks that happen to these chemicals to make them basically new substances that may or may not have different biological effects," Butler said.

Butler says the SOFA Act would complement similar legislation that’s been passed at the state level in Alaska. For example, he says with the recent passage of House Bill 312, the attorney general now has emergency regulatory powers to place new drugs on the controlled substances list soon after they hit the streets.

“We’re making progress in the opioid crisis. We’re seeing leveling off and even some declines in deaths related to prescription opioids, some declines even in heroin overdose deaths,” Butler said. “But fentanyl is the latest threat and it’s probably the most dangerous part of this epidemic that we’ve seen to date.”

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