E&C Republicans Host Roundtable on Fentanyl Crisis and the Southern Border

Jan 13, 2023

Energy and Commerce Republicans, led by Representative John Joyce, M.D. (R-PA), hosted a roundtable on Wednesday to discuss the worsening fentanyl crisis with a focus on illegal drug smuggling across our southern border. Members were joined by following panelists: 

  • Ray and Deb Cullen who tragically lost their son Zachary to fentanyl poisoning in August of last year. They reside in Shippensburg, PA, as do their 2 remaining sons and two granddaughters. 
  • Paul Knierim, Former Assistant Administrator, Chief of Intelligence, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 
  • Dr. Timothy Westlake, M.D., an Emergency Medicine Physician, is the former chairman of the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, former member of the Badger State’s Controlled Substances Board (CSB) and led the effort on class-wide scheduling of Fentanyl Related Substances (FRS) in Wisconsin. 

Below are highlights from the event: 

Mrs. Cullen: “We beg of you to get the word out about illicit fentanyl to everyone. This is urgent and must be done immediately because we need to slow down the rate at which other families are losing their loved ones. This crisis should be attacked with the same priority and intensity that Covid was. You could not turn on the television without hearing about Covid, its statistics and what the government was doing to fight it. It should be the same for the illicit fentanyl crisis! […] 

"I struggle to understand why our government is not making it a priority to stop the loss of so many lives. My husband heard this comparison the other day and thought it was very impactful. Another way of looking at this crisis is to compare it to 9/11. On that terrible day nearly 3,000 people lost their lives to a terrorist attack and our government responded quickly, intentionally and with force. Do you know that we are currently losing over 3,000 people EVERY TWO WEEKS from illicit fentanyl? […] 

“Our son did not die in vain and will do everything in our power to make sure of that.”

Mr. Knierim: “Organized criminal networks are using deception to hide fentanyl in fake counterfeit pills that are designed to look like prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Adderall, Xanax, and others. As I previously mentioned, illicit drugs as well as the transnational and domestic criminal organizations that traffic them continue to represent significant threats to public health, public safety, and national security. Make no mistake, the Mexican drug cartels, specifically the Sinaloa cartel and the CJNG are the transnational criminal organizations that comprise the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States. These two cartels in Mexico are violent criminal organizations responsible for mass producing and supplying virtually all the deadly fentanyl in the United States. The precursor chemicals principally originate in China. […] 

“Criminal networks are mass producing pills and fake marketing them as legitimate prescription pills to deceive the American public. Fake pills are easy to purchase, widely available, often contain fentanyl or methamphetamine, and can be deadly. I want to emphasize the increasing probability of counterfeit pills containing a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. Fake prescriptions are easily accessible and often sold on social media and other e-commerce platforms, making them available with a smart phone, including minors.


“This fight against the drugs of abuse with particular emphasis on fentanyl will not be remediated overnight. We all play a critical role and must be persistent.” 

Dr. Westlake: “As you might imagine, telling parents (sometimes even friends) that their kids will never come home is the worst part of my job. It was after one such conversation with my good friend, Lauri Badura, that fentanyl class scheduling reform came to mind. Lauri's son Archie was an alter server with my daughters. First, it was prescription pills and then IV opioids. I resuscitated Archie on his second to last overdose. At the time, I pulled out a body bag, laid it down next to him, and warned him that's where he'd end up if he didn’t get help. He stayed clean for 6 months until illicit fentanyl ended his life. […] 

“FRS [fentanyl related substance] scheduling reform is only temporary until Congress acts to make it permanent law. We all must work together and deploy every successful overdose prevention and harm reduction tool in our arsenal.” 

Rep. John Joyce, M.D. (R-PA): “Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of deaths in Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. Those who have lost their lives to these overdoses are not just nameless statistics. They’re our families, our friends, our neighbors.”  

Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-TX): “We’re dealing with a different disease now than we were in 2018. In 2018, it was diversion of legitimate prescriptions. Now, it’s fentanyl poisoning or fentanyl murder.” 

Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH): “When I was in the Ohio legislature, I chaired judiciary committees, and I said these are not just names or statistics out there. These are real people with family members that are going to for the rest of their lives think about this and have it on their heart.

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY): “I’ve never seen legislation move quicker than when families get involved and tell their stories. So, it’s important that you do that. And that’s how your son lives on. That’s how you continue to make a difference. So, thank you for your willingness to do that.” 

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA): “Right now we have young men and women across the country, like your son (Zachary Cullen), who are passing away, and I don’t know whether that was an analogue or not, but we need to make all of these Schedule I and I think the [HALT Fentanyl Act] is important to get passed.” 

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL): “We must do whatever we can to reduce the stigma attached to substance abuse disorder and addiction. We also must ensure that treatment is readily available for those in need, and we’re working on that. Of course, we need to engage with law enforcement to ensure they are combatting the transactional and the domestic criminal organizations that are trafficking and distributing this illicit fentanyl.” 

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH): “Fentanyl is killing Americans all across the country at an alarming rate. Our friends, our neighbors, and in some cases, our family members. My district in Appalachia, in Ohio, is no stranger to the dangers of fentanyl poisoning. It’s part of our nation that’s been especially devastated by fentanyl and the opioid crisis.” 

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-GA): “Chris Risner. I mentioned that name because I told his folks, Dan and Julie Risner, that any opportunity I had I would mention his name. Like your son [Zachary Cullen], he was a young man with a promising future, athlete, scholarship, had an injury and it all began. Ultimately, after six treatment centers and during those times I spent time with him in sessions in high schools where he gave his story, in prisons and in jails where he gave his story and did his best. Ultimately, we thought that he was going to make it. His grandfather died, and he was a victim.” 

Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): “[Fentanyl is an] issue that every community experiences, and that’s what frustrates me more than anything, especially about the southern border. A lot of people look at that on TV or in the media, and they think [fentanyl is] just a problem at the southern border. But it’s not. These drugs are infesting communities everywhere.”