Senate Committee Approves Bates and Huff Bill to Combat Fentanyl Drug Trafficking

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Senate’s Public Safety 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 in recent days.

“The recent overdoses and deaths linked to fentanyl demands greater attention and action from the Legislature, and I am encouraged that our bill to help address the crisis has cleared a major hurdle today.” said Senator Bates, a former Los Angeles County social worker who once worked in communities affected by drug abuse. “Our bill targets traffickers, not users, so we hope it will earn additional bipartisan support, and hopefully Governor Brown’s support. We cannot afford to stand by and see a lethal drug take even more lives.”

“Across the country, we have seen a huge spike in overdoses and deaths attributed to fentanyl,” said Senator Huff. “At least 28,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014. Of those, fentanyl was involved in 5,554 fatalities, a 79% increase from 2013.”

SB 1323 would 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, such as 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.

Fentanyl is a commonly 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 to ask if they could 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, and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.