Baker Bill Updating Controlled Substance Scheduling Heads to Senate, Supported by Local District Attorneys

HARRISBURG – The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved legislation sponsored by Sens. Lisa Baker (R-20) Devlin Robinson (R-37) that would update Pennsylvania’s controlled substance scheduling. A controlled substance is defined as a drug, substance or immediate precursor included in Schedules I through V of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

Senate Bill 959 would amend the act and allow for the scheduling of controlled substances in Pennsylvania to automatically follow the federal government’s Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification.

“The manufacturers of drugs change formulas faster than the laws and schedules of illicit substances are adjusted to allow for successful prosecution,” Baker said, who serves as the committee’s chair. “New and more lethal drugs are showing up in northeastern Pennsylvania. The first time someone uses one of these unchecked substances may result in a fatality.”

The legislation has gained significant support from district attorneys throughout Baker’s district.

“Our office is in full support of such a bill,” said Luzerne County District Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce. “I believe it would shorten the gap between the criminal element and governmental response to their illicit activities.

Susquehanna County District Attorney Marion O’Malley said, “Automatic scheduling is essential for law enforcement, particularly in a county like Susquehanna where interdiction stops are common. Charging will become chaotic without immediate scheduling.”

Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin said, “This is a good bill to enhance public safety by keeping the law up to speed on the ever-changing chemical composition of new designer drugs people are selling. An example of this is the drug xylazine, which is devastating to people here in Pennsylvania.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, xylazine contributed to 644 deaths across 38 counties in the state last year – an increase of more than 1,000% since 2018. Xylazine, also referred to as tranq, is increasingly found in nonprescription drug samples across Pennsylvania and the nation. Xylazine is usually combined with opioids, specifically fentanyl, and may also be combined with non-opioid substances including cocaine and methamphetamine.

“The sooner a substance can be classified as a scheduled drug the better. New mixes and synthetic drugs are being created and produced so rapidly it is difficult to keep up with the fight against production and dealers while also trying to protect individuals suffering from addiction,” Wayne County District Attorney Ag Howell said. “It’s becoming more common that a person is addicted and ingesting substances that are deadly and they don’t know it. Even here in 2021-22, a couple of times we’ve received lab results that identified xylazine and nitazene amongst the fentanyl and heroin, but it wasn’t listed as a controlled substance yet.

“The federal government has the capacity to act more quickly and comprehensively than states can. By tying our schedule to the federal schedule, we can give our anti-drug enforcers a better chance to counter those spreading poisons in our communities,” Wyoming County District Attorney and former White House Drug Czar Joe Peters said.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Watch the full Senate Judiciary Committee meeting here.


Jennifer Wilson

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