Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Bill to Combat Fentanyl Drug Trafficking

Friday, May 27, 2016

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Appropriations Committee today unanimously approved Senate Bill 1323 by Senators Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) that would enhance criminal penalties for illegal distributors of fentanyl, which has been linked to numerous deaths in California this year. The full Senate will consider the bill next week at a date to be determined.

“I’m encouraged that our effort to address fentanyl drug trafficking has cleared a critical hurdle today,” said Bates. “Democrats and Republicans recognize the growing problem of opioid overdoses from drugs such as fentanyl, and I’m optimistic our bill will win the entire Senate’s support next week.”

Huff commented, “We cannot afford to sit idly by and watch a lethal drug like this one destroy lives, families and communities, and I’m pleased our Senate colleagues agree. Fentanyl abuse has recently cost the lives of many Californians and our legislation will hopefully prevent future tragedies.”

Bates and Huff introduced SB 1323 in February to add fentanyl to the list of drugs such as heroin and cocaine that are subject to criminal penalty enhancements by weight. The amount of additional time in state prison would depend on the weight. For example, if the amount of fentanyl being trafficked exceeds one kilogram, the person shall receive an additional term of three years; four kilograms or more – five years; and 10 kilograms or more – 10 years.

Weeks after SB 1323 was introduced, several fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths occurred mostly in the Sacramento area, bringing more attention to this deadly drug.

Fentanyl is a prescribed synthetic opioid used to treat people with severe chronic pain, when other pain medicines no longer work, and as an anesthetic in surgery. When abused, fentanyl affects the brain and nervous system by producing a euphoric high 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine or heroin. A fentanyl overdose can cause blood pressure to plummet, diminish breathing and induce deep sleep coma, which can lead to death. The drug is inexpensive to produce, making it a go-to heroin substitute for drug cartels.

Orange County Crime Lab statistics show fentanyl use has dramatically increased between 2014 and 2015. The statistics show a 100 percent increase between 2014 (10 cases) and October 2015 (20 cases) in those who drive under the drug’s influence. The lab also found that fentanyl possession increased from just three cases in 2014 to 12 as of November 2015, a 400 percent increase. New Jersey has seen a huge spike in fentanyl-related deaths, with 80 reported in the first six months of 2014. In a 15-month period, Pennsylvania reported approximately 200 fentanyl-related deaths.

Alarmed by these statistics, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department reached out to local legislators asking them to carry legislation to combat fentanyl distribution. In consultation with stakeholders and legislative staff, Bates and Huff crafted the bill to ensure that it does not conflict with the voter-approved Proposition 47 of 2014.

Proposition 47 reduces the classification of most "nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes" from a felony to a misdemeanor. SB 1323 only targets those illegally distributing fentanyl, not those who illegally possess or use it.

SB 1323 is supported by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, Crime Victims United of California, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.