Citing the increase in the illicit use of a drug called fentanyl and the threat it poses to the public, Senators Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) have introduced Senate Bill 1323 to enhance criminal penalties for illegal distributors.
“The illicit use of fentanyl and its equivalents poses a serious threat to every community’s health and safety,” said Senator Bates. “Given the 100 percent increase of those who drive under the influence of fentanyl over the past two years, it is imperative that we do what we can to limit its distribution to save lives.”
Senator Huff remarked, “This is a drug that can be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and heroin, and abuse of this opioid is rapidly growing in California. Fentanyl abuse has led to the death of thousands of people across the U.S., and it is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come into contact with it.”
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 co-authored by Senators Janet Nguyen and Jeff Stone, and Assembly Members Bill Brough and Don Wagner. The bill is pending referral in the Senate.