Country Singer Jelly Roll Testifies On Capitol Hill About Fentanyl Crisis ‘Crippling Our Nation’

Jelly Roll has come a long way since dealing drugs, but isn’t staying quiet about them.

The Grammy-nominated singer appeared Thursday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs to raise the alarm about America’s fentanyl crisis — and to open up about his own past.

“I was part of the problem,” he said. “I am here now standing as a man that wants to be part of the solution.”

Jelly Roll, whose real name is Jason DeFord, has emerged as a new talent in country music in recent years. Before receiving two Grammy nods, however, he was charged with aggravated robbery as a teen and ended up in prison. At 23, he landed behind bars again for dealing drugs.

“It’s important for me to tell y’all that I’m not here to defend the use of illegal drugs,” Jelly Roll said at the Senate hearing. “And I also understand the paradox of my history as a drug dealer, standing in front of this committee. But I also think that’s what makes me perfect to talk about this.”

Jelly Roll opened his testimony by saying that the “dire crisis crippling our nation” has “likely claimed the life of a friend, child or relative of nearly everyone” in the room. Like the White House did in December, he called the matter a “national emergency.”

“Americans are dying every day, and at a staggering rate,” Jelly Roll said.

The statistics bear that out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the number of people who died from drug overdoses in 2021 was more than six times higher than in 1999. In 2021, more than 75% of the 107,000 overdose deaths involved an opioid, the CDC said.

Jelly Roll testified at a hearing on finding legislative solutions to stop the flow of fentanyl.

Kent Nishimura via Getty Images

On Capitol Hill, Jelly Roll said that Americans “witnessed an even further increase in fentanyl-related fatalities” in 2022. He added that the Drug Enforcement Administration “confiscated over 379 million doses of fentanyl that year.”

These doses, he said, were more than enough “to end every American life.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the committee chair, believes the solution is his Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence Off Fentanyl Act, or FEND Off Fentanyl Act — which would sanction drug traffickers to impede the flow of opioids from Mexico and China.

Jelly Roll’s rise to fame, meanwhile, has been a redemption story for addicts and dealers in the U.S. The “Need a Favor” singer was reportedly arrested more than 40 times on various drug charges in his life, but now says that he tries “to stay away from drugs.”

“Fentanyl transcends partisanship and ideology,” he said Thursday. “I could sit here and cry for days about the caskets I’ve carried of people I’ve loved dearly, deeply, in my soul. Good people. … At every concert I perform, I witness the heartbreaking impact of fentanyl.”

He added: “Fans, grappling with this tragedy in their families, seek solace in music and hope that … their elected representatives value their lives and those of their lost loved ones above political agenda. My appeal to this committee … is to offer this hope.”

Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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