Jennifer Shutt, Georgia Recorder
January 11, 2024
WASHINGTON — Country music star Jason “Jelly Roll” DeFord stepped out of the recording studio and into a Capitol Hill hearing room on Thursday to urge Congress to take action to curb both the supply of illicit fentanyl and the demand for it.
“I could sit here and cry for days about the caskets I’ve carried of people I’ve loved dearly, deeply in my soul,” he said. “Good people, not just drug addicts — uncles, friends, cousins, normal people, some people who just got in a car wreck and started taking a pain pill to manage it, and one thing led to the other.”
“How fast it spirals out of control, I don’t think people truly understand,” he added.
DeFord, a Grammy nominee and winner of New Artist of the Year at the Country Music Awards in November, told senators he wasn’t testifying to “defend the use of illegal drugs.”
“I also understand the paradox of my history as a drug dealer standing in front of this committee,” said DeFord, of Antioch, Tennessee. “But equally, I think that’s what makes me perfect to talk about this. I was a part of the problem. I am here now, standing as a man that wants to be a part of the solution.”
DeFord said that when he was younger he genuinely believed “selling drugs was a victimless crime.”
“My father always told me what doesn’t get you in the wash will get you in the rinse,” he said. “Now I have a 15-year-old daughter whose mother is a drug addict. Every day I get to look in the eyes of a victim in my household of the effects of drugs.”
And every day, DeFord said, he wonders if he will have to tell his daughter “that her mother became a part of the national statistic.”
DeFord as well as Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, and Christopher J. Urben, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, all testified before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee during a hearing about addiction and ways to address it.
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, chairman of the committee, said that no matter where someone lives in the country, they have a story about fentanyl affecting a family member, a friend or a colleague.
“We’ve all lost someone or know someone who’s lost someone,” Brown said. “It’s a crisis that cuts across all geographic lines and certainly across all partisan divides. That’s why it’s been and will continue to be a top priority of this committee.”
The Fend Off Fentanyl Act, a broadly bipartisan bill with 67 co-sponsors, would “reduce the flow of fentanyl into our communities,” he said.
“In this committee, our purview is often money,” Brown said. “We use that authority to hit the cartels and chemical suppliers directly where it hurts — their bank accounts.”
The 42-page bill passed the committee last June but has not gotten a vote on the Senate floor.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, ranking member on the panel, bemoaned the politics around the legislation.
“Unfortunately, we’re here today having another hearing on Fend Off Fentanyl because our friends on the other side of the Capitol — because of the shenanigans at the end of last year — didn’t get the bill included in legislation that would have made this, I believe, law already,” Scott said. “It is incredibly unfortunate that playing politics is still a game played in Washington, especially on something so important.”
Scott noted that fentanyl led to the deaths of 75,000 Americans during 2022, according to preliminary data from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Having the bill stalled without a clear pathway to becoming law at the moment is not just frustrating to members of Congress, Scott said, but “incredibly frustrating to the people of our country who watch the devastation eat away at their communities.”
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