With the support of Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) announced today that she will continue discussions with the Senate Public Safety Committee and pursue her fentanyl legislation, Senate Bill 75, in 2022 instead of this year. The bill would add fentanyl, a powerful opioid, to a category of dangerous drugs that are subject to penalty enhancements based on the weight an individual possesses for sale or distribution.
“California must do more to hold the traffickers accountable who have poisoned people with fentanyl,” said Senator Bates. “That is why I will continue to try to work with the Senate Public Safety Committee on finding a consensus that can be ultimately signed into law. I thank Sheriff Barnes for his efforts on this issue and the parents who are seeking justice for their children. We will continue to push for changes to the law to help save lives.”
Sheriff Barnes said, “Fentanyl continues to jeopardize communities across California. The annual number of deaths related to fentanyl is rapidly increasing. Solving this problem must include additional mechanisms in the law to better hold accountable fentanyl traffickers. Such deliberate indifference to life must face a consequence that is proportional to the serious risk their action poses to our community. I urge the State Legislature to set aside rigid ideology and work with stakeholders to develop a comprehensive policy that makes clear fentanyl trafficking will not be tolerated in California.”
Senator Bates also announced today that she intends to create a working group in her district to consider other strategies on how to reduce fentanyl-related deaths. The working group would consist of law enforcement, parents, health professionals, and other stakeholders.
SB 75 would align fentanyl on the same level as cocaine and heroin by imposing an additional term of three to 25 years in a case in which a defendant has been convicted of one of several specified drug commerce crimes involving fentanyl.
Street fentanyl has surged in the western U.S. and has caused thousands of deaths. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Illicit producers add fentanyl to heroin to increase its potency, or to disguise it as highly potent heroin. Many users believe they are purchasing heroin and do not know they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths. Fentanyl is a very dangerous substance because it only takes a few milligrams to cause respiratory depression, overdose, and death.
Amy Neville is a parent who supports SB 75 and whose son Alexander died at age 14 after ingesting fentanyl. She said, “This is about regulating a tremendously deadly chemical that is killing our children at an alarming and accelerating rate. Our current programs do not take victims like my Alex into account. We should not ignore these victims because they do not match our idea of the kind of people who need help.”
The number of annual fentanyl-involved deaths in California has increased significantly in recent years. There were 431 reported deaths in 2017, 786 deaths in 2018, and 1,513 deaths in 2019. In Los Angeles County alone, deaths soared from 117 in 2017 to a projected 783 deaths in 2020.
The OC Sheriff’s Department has seen a sharp rise in the seizures of fentanyl over the past five years. The amount of fentanyl seized by the Department’s teams was zero in 2015, increasing each year to a total of 169 pounds in 2019. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal. Therefore, 169 pounds would be enough to create more than 38 million lethal doses – roughly equivalent to California’s population.
SB 75 is similar to Senator Bates’ SB 161 (2019), SB 1103 (2018), SB 176 (2017), and SB 1323 (2016). The Senate Public Safety Committee refused to approve the prior bills on partisan votes with the exception of SB 1323 in 2016, which ultimately died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Co-authors of SB 75 include Assemblymembers Steven Choi (R-Irvine), Janet Nguyen, (R-Fountain Valley), Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), and Senator Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore).