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Lawmakers crack down on online sales of illicit drugs containing fentanyl with legislation

Rebecca Barnabi
Fentanyl
dea.gov

In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized more than 58 million fake pills containing fentanyl and 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder — nearly 400 million deadly doses of fentanyl.

The DEA has reported that illicit drugs are increasingly being sold and distributed on social media platforms with experts detecting approximately 10,000 new drug-related accounts each month. During a two-month period in 2021, the DEA identified 76 cases where traffickers advertised drugs on social media. Ninety-five percent of websites selling prescription drugs are doing so illegally, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

U.S. Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Dan Crenshaw of Texas, Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania and Wesley Hunt of Texas are introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation today to help address the online sale of counterfeit pills and illicit drugs laced with fentanyl.

Targeting Online Sales of Fentanyl Act would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the methods used to enable the online sale of fentanyl and assess efforts by federal law enforcement and online providers to combat the practice.

“As a former federal law enforcement officer and CIA case officer who worked narcotics trafficking cases, I’ve long been aware of the evolving tactics used to move illicit drugs. Traffickers and dealers are finding new distribution channels for fentanyl-laced drugs online — while Virginians and Americans across the country are paying the price,” Spanberger said. “Congress and our federal government must do more to combat these deadly operations. Our bipartisan legislation would help determine how to disrupt these channels and analyze the best methods for law enforcement officers to crack down on online fentanyl sales.”

The bill is companion legislation to a U.S. Senate bill led by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ted Cruz of Texas.

“This bill fits right in with one of the main objectives of the Task Force to Combat Mexican Drug Cartels, which I am the chairman, to assess which government agencies are overseeing what policies and actions as it pertains to online sales of Fentanyl,” Crenshaw said. “We can’t offer solutions to combat easy online access without knowing exactly what our agencies are already doing.”

The Targeting Online Sales of Fentanyl Act would require the GAO to provide a report within one year, including: 

  • Business models and techniques employed by online fentanyl traffickers;

  • Utilization of social media platforms in facilitating fentanyl transactions involving youth;

  • Scope and effectiveness of federal initiatives aimed at countering online fentanyl sales, including intergovernmental and interagency collaborations;

  • Enforcement mechanisms and processes employed by online providers to detect and report transactions; and

  • An analysis of the outcomes of referrals to law enforcement agencies regarding online fentanyl sales, along with areas requiring improvement.

“Every community suffers from the devastating toll of fentanyl — it is crucial that we commit ourselves to a bipartisan, bicameral effort to stop the spread of it,” Dean said. “And in our efforts, we must stay informed with how fentanyl is reaching people so we can respond with the most effective tools. Our bill will specifically target the online sales of counterfeit pills and illicit drugs laced with fentanyl, which has become increasingly more common. I’m grateful for my colleagues working together to find new ways to help save lives.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.