COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate has relaunched consideration of legislation that would increase penalties for the possession and sale of a powerful opioid that's being added to heroin and leading to more overdose deaths in the state.
Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) is carrying this session's SB 1, which is comparable to another bill he sponsored that moved through the chamber last session but stalled in the Ohio House before the end of the year.
LaRose offered sponsor testimony on the new bill Feb. 8 before the Senate's Judiciary Committee, with hopes that the law changes will be enacted this session.
"This legislation targets anyone trafficking fentanyl-related substances," LaRose said. "I'll be clear: I think most of us agree that those who are addicted need to be in treatment, but those who are trafficking this poison need to be in prison."
Fentanyl 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, up from 2,531 a year earlier and 2,110 in 2013, according to statistics released by the Ohio Department of Health. Fentanyl helped push the results higher, accounting for 1,155 overdose deaths.
"Overdoses killed more people than car crashes in the state of Ohio [last year]," LaRose said, citing statistics compiled by the State Highway Patrol. " That's a staggering, staggering fact."
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.
LaRose said the legislation focuses on penalizing pushers -- "making sure that we can go after the traffickers who are putting this poison out on our streets while not at the same time unwittingly snaring those who are addicts and who need to be in treatment, not in prison."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.