Chuck Grassley Urges Action On Fentanyl

Caleb McCullough | Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — Three parents from around Iowa sat in a Des Moines federal courtroom Thursday with pictures of their sons, ages 17, 22 and 23.

As they paused occasionally to hold back tears, they told the story of their sons, who died of fentanyl overdoses in the past year.

They were among those testifying at a field hearing for the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control held by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley on the impacts of fentanyl in the U.S. and Iowa.

“Fentanyl stole our son from having a future,” Laurie Arwine of Cedar Rapids said. “We need to make a stand now and do something to create more awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and stop pills that kill.”

Most of Iowa’s 470 drug overdose deaths in 2021 were from opioids, and fentanyl was involved in most of those opioid-related deaths, according to the governor’s office.

The parents at the hearing — Brooke Anderson of Shelby, Deric Kidd of Des Moines and Arwine — each told similar stories. Their sons went to bed one night, took an illicit pill and died.

Kidd started an organization, Become Their Voice, to raise awareness around fentanyl and people who have died from drug overdoses. She and other parents who’ve gone through the experience of losing a child to drugs give talks at middle schools and high schools to educate students about the danger of opioids.

Grassley effort

Grassley, a Republican, has highlighted Kidd’s story in Congress and pushed to permanently classify fentanyl analogues — substances chemically similar to fentanyl — as Schedule I drugs. Fentanyl itself is a Schedule II controlled substance used in medical settings to treat severe pain.

“These heartbreaking stories of lost children deserve our attention,” Grassley said at the hearing. “We need to do what we can to prevent other families from experiencing this same loss. This hearing is a step toward meeting that obligation.”

Iowa numbers up

In Iowa, drug seizures containing fentanyl have skyrocketed, Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said during the hearing.

He said Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigations analyzed 17,000 pills containing fentanyl in 2021.

In the first 9 months of 2022, the number has skyrocketed to more than 90,000, Bayens said. Officials also have seized three times the amount of powdered fentanyl this year as they did in all of 2021.

The fentanyl being seized by law enforcement is primarily smuggled from the southern border, often made in clandestine labs and pressed to look like prescription pills.

Bayens said permanently scheduling fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs would help prosecute criminal organizations that can tweak drug formulas to evade the law.

“Being as nimble and proactive as we can and being responsive to these emerging analogues is absolutely imperative,” he said.