Jelly Roll, a rapper-turned-country singer who is one of the biggest rising stars in the music industry, gave powerful and emotion-filled testimony about the U.S. fentanyl crisis on Thursday, sharing that he wants to be “part of the solution” for the opioid crisis.
The 39-year-old singer, whose real name is Jason DeFord, spoke during the Senate’s banking, housing and urban affairs committee hearing in Washington, D.C.
The “Stopping the Flow of Fentanyl: Public Awareness and Legislative Solutions” hearing addressed the rising number of deaths caused by fentanyl and other drug overdoses.
“At every concert I perform, I witness the heartbreaking impact of fentanyl. I see fans grappling with this tragedy in the form of music … that they seek solace in music and hope that their experiences won’t befall others,” he said. “These are the people I’m here to speak for, y’all. These people crave reassurance that their elected officials actually care more about human life than they do about ideology and partisanship.”
Jelly Roll, who from the age of 14 spent a decade in and out of detention facilities for drug dealing and other crimes, admitted that he was a part of the problem in the past.
He served time in prison for charges including aggravated robbery and possession with intent to sell, according to the New York Times.
“I brought my community down. I hurt people,” he testified. “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.
“I was a part of the problem. I am here now standing as a man that wants to be a part of the solution.”
He said the U.S. has largely ignored the rising drug issue in the country because of the way people view and judge drug addiction, pointing out that, on average, 190 people who overdose and die every day in the States is the equivalent of a 737 aircraft packed full of people crashing each day.
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“Could you imagine the national media attention it would get if they were reporting that a plane was crashing every single day and killing 190 people? But because it’s 190 drug addicts, we don’t feel that way,” he said. “Because America has been known to bully and shame drug addicts, instead of dealing and trying to understand what the actual root of the problem is with that.”
Committee chair Sherrod Brown commended Jelly Roll Thursday for his words.
“I’m guessing most of you didn’t have ‘Jelly Roll testifies at Senate banking committee’ on your ’24 bingo card,” he said.
“But few speak and sing as eloquently, as openly, as — shall we say — viscerally about addiction as Mr. DeFord,” he continued. “There’s a reason why Americans flock to his music and his concerts. He has a connection with people based on shared pain, shared challenges, shared hope.”
The FEND Off Fentanyl Act passed the Senate last July but has yet to make it through the House. Jelly Roll called on lawmakers to help it cross the finish line.
“I think it’s important for me to tell you all that I’m not here to defend the use of illegal drugs, and I also understand the paradox of my history as a drug dealer standing in front of this committee,” DeFord said.
“But equally, I think that’s what makes me perfect to talk about this.”
Jelly Roll also warned that fentanyl is no longer just an issue for those with drug addictions and that the era of experimenting with drugs “is over.” He said fentanyl is becoming an increasing danger because it’s creeping into households through other drugs, including legal ones.
“I think that the biggest misconception about this is that if it hasn’t already ended up in your home and you’re listening to this thinking that it never will, you are wrong. It is on its way to your living room.”
In Canada, since surveillance began in 2016 for opioid-related deaths, there were a total of 40,642 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and June 2023, according to figures from the Canadian government.
Between January and June 2023, an average of 22 people across the country lost their lives to accidental opioid overdose per day. Of all the deaths in that time, 84 per cent involved fentanyl.
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