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COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate moved legislation March 29 to increase criminal penalties for the possession and sale of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that’s being added to heroin and leading to increased overdose deaths.
SB 1 passed on a vote of 27-6 and heads to the Ohio House for further consideration.
Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) said the law changes were proposed by prosecutors in Wayne County and are aimed at those trafficking fentanyl-laced drugs.
“This is a killer,” LaRose said. “It’s killing our fellow Ohioans in record numbers, and it’s something that we all need to address.”
Fentanyl, a large animal tranquilizer, is typically used in anesthesia to treat patients with extreme pain or to manage pain after surgery. The drug is 30-50 times more potent than heroin.
In 2015, a record 3,050 Ohio residents died as a result of unintentional drug overdoses in Ohio, according to statistics released by the Ohio Department of Health. Fentanyl helped push the results higher, accounting for 1,155 overdose deaths.
And current law, LaRose said, is not addressing the fentanyl issue.
“Under current law, to be considered a felon, you’d need to be walking around with enough fentanyl in pure form to kill 10,000 people,” he said.
Among other provisions, SB 1 would increase the criminal penalties for the selling, possessing or otherwise providing fentanyl to others, with lower amounts required for higher felony convictions. Addicts caught with the drug also would be eligible for treatment as part of their sentencing.
“What we’re doing here is making sure that we can go after traffickers,” LaRose said. “These are people that have earned a living, earned a profit, in this illicit trade, and they know for a fact that some of their clientele are going to die as a result of the poison they’re selling. Those people belong in prison, for a long time, and we’re coming after them with this bill.”
Sen. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) was among those who opposed the bill, voicing concern the state’s growing prison population, including addicted residents facing mandatory sentences.
“These failed strategies have made the situation worse in this state and throughout our country,” he said.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.