Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean) has introduced legislation to increase criminal penalties for unlawfully manufacturing, distributing or dispensing fentanyl – a prescription opioid found to be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. The lifesaving measure has received support in the Assembly, with fellow District 10 legislators Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe sponsoring the Assembly version of the bill.
Holzapfel, McGuckin and Wolfe’s legislation increasea criminal penalties for unlawfully manufacturing, distributing or dispensing fentanyl – a prescription opioid found to be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. (Wikimedia Commons)
“The evidence is undeniable – fentanyl is so dangerously potent that even one use can be an instant death sentence,” Holzapfel, a former Ocean County Prosecutor, said. “As we continue to wage war against this crisis, we must ensure that those who unlawfully place this deadly drug in the hands of our loved ones and neighbors face the same criminal penalties as those who manufacture or dispense heroin.”
In New Jersey, overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl tripled in 2014. State officials have reported that the drug is often laced with heroin – a deadly combination that continues to fuel the opioid abuse epidemic in Ocean County and across New Jersey. The drug is odorless, colorless and nearly impossible to detect, compounding the risk for users who are unaware that the heroin could be laced with the far more powerful substance.
“Here, in Ocean County, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to this rapidly growing crisis,” McGuckin said. “Our community has been hit harder by the opioid epidemic than almost anywhere else in the state. I signed on as a prime sponsor of this bill because I believe we can and must do more to get fentanyl off our streets and away from those we love the most, before more lives and communities are torn apart by the cycle of addiction.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is usually prescribed for those suffering from severe chronic pain, such as terminally ill cancer patients. Despite the drug’s catastrophic potency, the penalties for unlawfully manufacturing or distributing fentanyl under current law are less severe than the fines and prison terms imposed on those who produce or dispense heroin or cocaine.
Current law classifies unlawfully producing or distributing 5 or more ounces of fentanyl as a second degree crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and, or a hefty fine. S-1026 would establish this crime as a first degree offense, doubling the maximum prison sentence from 10 to 20 years. In addition, those convicted of unlawfully producing or dispensing less than one ounce of fentanyl would also face longer prison terms and larger fines. All convicted must serve a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed.
“This bill is a commonsense update to current law that will save countless lives – pure and simple,” Wolfe said. “It’s time to send a strong message to fentanyl dealers and manufactures that there is a serious price to pay for committing these crimes.”