Civil Rights Organizations Condemn War on Drugs 2.0

Contact: Janessa Sambola-Harris, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, [email protected]
Brian Pacheo, Drug Policy Alliance, [email protected]

Coalition urges congressional action to address overdose crisis as public health issue

WASHINGTON — After Congress passed the omnibus spending bill that included a provision extending the Trump-era temporary classwide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, civil rights groups are denouncing the provision and calling on Congress to stop the extension and instead pursue policies that adequately address the overdose crisis as the public health issue that it is. Besides the redundancy of the provision, this blanket scheduling will only lead to further criminalization of Black and Brown communities still reeling from the now widely repudiated war on drugs. 

“During the protests calling for police accountability and criminal-legal reform in 2020, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to pursue racial equity. This scheduling policy flies directly in the face of those promises,” said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “For too long Black and Brown people and their communities have suffered from under-resourcing and over policing, due in large part to the war on drugs. Congress must stop trying to perpetuate mass incarceration and instead advance policies that actually help our communities navigate the overdose crisis as a public health issue.”

“We are disappointed Congress is once again choosing to punt this issue, rather than allowing this harmful and unnecessary policy to expire,” said Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at Drug Policy Alliance. “We urge Congress to stop passing temporary extensions through spending bills and instead study this issue carefully, engaging with science and stakeholders, before making a permanent decision.”

“It’s hard to believe Congress extended this ‘temporary’ policy yet again. Overdoses have only skyrocketed since it came into force. It is time to let this expire now,” said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Congress already has the tools they need to prosecute cases involving fentanyl-related substances. This cruel, over-broad approach hasn’t helped, and continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities.”

“We are disappointed that Congress has continued the temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances instead of preventing opioid deaths through comprehensive legislation,” said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. “We urge Congress to use this time to work on a permanent solution — one that saves lives through public health measures, narrows the definition of fentanyl-related substances subject to criminal prosecution, and removes mandatory minimum punishments. We must change our current approach to this crisis in a way that addresses public safety needs and the needs of communities of color.”  

“Congress has again chosen to extend this failed policy, rather than pursue the public health solutions our country needs. As record breaking highs in opioid overdose deaths demonstrate, criminalization does not save lives and it disproportionately harms communities of color,” said Liz Komar, sentencing reform counsel at the Sentencing Project. “We urge Congress to adopt a long-term evidence-based approach rooted in science without mandatory minimums.”

The coalition previously wrote to President Biden and congressional leaders urging them to end their support of the classwide scheduling and pivot to public health solutions to help alleviate suffering and save lives. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit

 The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that monitors human rights violations in more than 90 countries, including the United States. We investigate abuses, expose the facts related to those abuses, and advocate that those with power respect rights and secure justice.

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice. Our policy priorities envision the full inclusion in society of people with criminal records and an end to extreme punishments. Our aim is to center the leadership, voices, vision, and experience of those directly affected by mass incarceration to make the rationale for systemic change vivid, credible and compelling.