Jelly Roll delivers impassioned testimony before Congress as lawmakers push for new anti-fentanyl legislation

The musician has been outspoken about his history with drug use.

January 11, 2024, 9:32 PM

Grammy-nominated singer Jason DeFord, known to fans as Jelly Roll, urged lawmakers on Thursday to pass anti-fentanyl legislation and invoked his own past with substance abuse in an effort to help save lives.

DeFord testified in front of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs as ranking member Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) continued to push for the passage of his bill, the Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act.

"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 during his opening remarks.

"I brought my community down. I hurt people. I was the uneducated man in the kitchen playing chemist with drugs I knew absolutely nothing about, just like these drug dealers are doing right now when they're mixing every drug on the market with fentanyl and they're killing the people we love," he said.

The 39-year-old rapper turned country singer has been outspoken about his history with drugs, having struggled with addiction and at one point dealing drugs. His story was the focus of the Hulu documentary, "Save Me."

"I've attended more funerals than I care to share with y'all," DeFord said during the hearing. "I could sit here and cry for days about the caskets I've carried of people I love dearly, deeply in my soul. Good people, not just drug addicts. Uncles, friends, cousins, normal people."

DeFord was one of three witnesses who testified during Thursday’s hearing. The president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Patrick Yoes, and former DEA agent Christopher J. Urben also testified in front of the committee advocating for the passage of the FEND Off Fentanyl Act.

PHOTO: Jason "Jelly Roll" DeFord testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee, Jan. 11, 2024, in Washington, D.C.
Jason "Jelly Roll" DeFord testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee, Jan. 11, 2024, in Washington, D.C.
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate Banking Committee last June but was blocked from being included in the National Defense Authorization Act, along with other financial legislation, by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) last December in an effort to include McHenry's own cryptocurrency legislation which did not also did not make it into the final version of the act.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that six out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake pills may contain a fatal dose of fentanyl. Nearly 110,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Behind all those numbers, most tragically are stories," Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said during the hearing. "Stories of families torn apart, of parents losing teenagers before they graduate high school, of grandparents stepping in to raise grandchildren."

The FEND Off Fentanyl Act focuses on sanctions and anti-money laundering practices in an attempt to target China and Mexico’s illicit fentanyl supply chain. DeFord said that while he believes drug-dealing is a law enforcement issue, drug addiction should be considered a mental health issue, calling for access to better care, treatment and resources for those struggling.

The singer, who was previously convicted on drug-related offenses, said during his testimony that he has since lost his right to vote and has had difficulty buying a house because of his criminal record. Now, DeFord supports drug rehabilitation centers by performing charity shows at local jails and rehab facilities while on tour.

While DeFord said he is now sober, addiction continues to affect his family. During the hearing, the musician disclosed that his teenage daughter’s mother struggles with addiction.

"Every single day, I have to wonder if me and my wife, if today will be the day that I have to tell my daughter that her mother became a part of the national statistic," he said.

As future of the bill remains uncertain with no forward movement in the House, and as fentanyl continues to concern public health and government officials, DeFord pleaded with lawmakers to address the growing crisis. After failing to be included in the NDAA, the bill has made no forward movement in the House and there have been no reports regarding its future.

"I suggest that we stand up and do more as fast as we possibly can," DeFord said.

ABC News' Sabina Ghebremedhin contributed to this report.

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