Senate Committee Again Rejects Bill to Address Fentanyl Drug Trafficking

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

For the fourth year in a row, the Senate Public Safety Committee today refused to pass legislation written by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and sponsored by Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes that would help protect Californians from the dangers of fentanyl and pursue illegal distributors.

“It’s sad that the Legislature has reaffirmed yet again that cracking down on fentanyl drug traffickers is not a priority,” said Senator Bates. “With statewide fentanyl deaths skyrocketing in recent years, it's clear that existing laws are not enough to deter traffickers who are taking advantage of legal loopholes and exposing users and first responders to potential death.”

Senate Bill 161 would have added fentanyl, a powerful opioid, to a category of dangerous drugs such as heroin that are subject to penalty enhancements based on the weight an individual possesses for sale or distribution.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade heroin and is often mixed into heroin and other drugs without the knowledge of users. Fentanyl is also cheaper to make and easier to transport than heroin, making it the emerging go-to drug for cartels. Because of fentanyl’s potency, overdoses are more likely to be fatal as it can shut down the lungs in as little as two minutes. Fentanyl can also be deadly if it becomes airborne or makes contact with human skin, putting first responders and other innocent bystanders at risk.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has seen a marked increase in fentanyl seizures in 2019, with one seizure equaling half of the total amount of fentanyl seized in 2018. According to the California Department of Health, statewide fentanyl deaths increased 614 percent from 104 in 2014 to 743 in 2018.

In response to today’s vote, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes issued the following statement: “The drug dealers who sell illicit fentanyl pose a significant danger to our community.  As they seek to profit from addiction, the death rates of their victims continue to rise. For the past four years, law enforcement has worked to educate legislators about the danger of fentanyl and the consequences of inaction. Our warnings have gone unheeded and, tragically, our predictions have come true. 

“Deaths and trafficking continue to skyrocket year after year, and the need to upgrade penalties for trafficking and dealing fentanyl remains unaddressed. The Senate Public Safety Committee’s inaction of the past four years is a missed opportunity to save lives and keep California safe. I urge our Legislature to re-consider this common sense proposal to hold accountable those who put so many Californians at risk.”

According to the OC Sheriff’s office, its deputies seized less than one pound of fentanyl in 2016. In 2017, deputies seized 22 pounds. In 2018, they seized 44 pounds. In 2019, they seized more than 100 pounds of fentanyl.

In 2018, the California State Legislature passed several bills to address the opioid crisis, including Senator Bates’ SB 1109, which provides opioid preventative education. However, the Legislature has yet to address the illegal fentanyl trade that has affected California.

As part of her ongoing efforts to address the fentanyl epidemic, Sen. Bates introduced similar legislation in 2016, 2017, and 2018. In addition to blocking SB 161 today and last year, the Senate Public Safety Committee blocked SB 1103 in 2018 and SB 176 in 2017. In 2016, the Assembly Appropriations Committee did not approve SB 1323.