Still, a large group of Democrats, some of them from competitive districts, lined up in support of the measure, eager to show they were working to tackle the synthetic opioid crisis at a time when Republicans have attempted to portray their party as weak on the issue.
Representative Angie Craig of Minnesota, one of the 74 Democrats to cross party lines and support the bill, said she was “not going to let perfect be the enemy of good here.”
“We’ve got an American crisis here at hand, and I think what you saw from the White House is that they recognize this is a crisis,” Ms. Craig said, noting Thursday’s bill “is what can pass the House, and we’ll see what happens in the Senate.”
The debate was just the latest and most focused fight to play out over fentanyl in Congress, where the synthetic opioid crisis has featured prominently in other politically charged policy battles, such as how to address rising threats from China, and a bitter standoff over border security and immigration. Republicans in particular have frequently cited the surge of fentanyl-related deaths across the country as a reason to clamp down on immigration and impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, even though the bulk of such drugs are brought in through ports of entry by U.S. citizens.
Currently under Schedule I, a person caught trafficking 10 grams of a fentanyl analogue would receive a minimum prison sentence of five years, while a person carrying 100 grams would receive a minimum sentence of 10 years. But the legislation would end up lowering those thresholds further, according to experts, because of the way it defines a “fentanyl-related substance,” such that even if a trace amount of fentanyl analogue appeared in a 10-gram sample, it would trigger the five-year mandatory minimum sentence.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, with some fentanyl analogues, a few milligrams can be a deadly dose.
The legislation makes exceptions for drugs already listed elsewhere — such as fentanyl itself, which, as an ingredient in various federally approved medicines, appears on Schedule II — and for institutions researching fentanyl analogues for potential beneficial use.