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AG Healey, Legislators File Bill To Make Fentanyl Trafficking A Crime

Aug 18, 2015 01:30PM ● By Bill Gilman

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.

(Editor's note: The following information was submitted by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey.)

 – In the continuing fight to combat heroin and opioid overdoses and deaths, Attorney General Maura Healey today joined with Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford), the mother of an overdose victim, and 56 co-sponsors to file legislation that would establish the state crime of fentanyl trafficking.
The bill has broad support from law enforcement from across the state, including the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, the Massachusetts State Police, and a number of District Attorneys. 

“An Act Relative to the Trafficking of Fentanyl,” creates the crime of trafficking of fentanyl for amounts greater than 10 grams. The proposed law would authorize incarceration in state prison up to 20 years for those convicted of fentanyl trafficking.

Fentanyl is the most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment and is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Predatory drug traffickers frequently mix fentanyl with heroin, often without the knowledge of the buyer. Its euphoric effects are indistinguishable from morphine or heroin.

Even in very low doses, fentanyl can be fatal.

“Like heroin and other prescription opioids, fentanyl is claiming lives across Massachusetts,” said AG Healey. “By making the trafficking of this extremely dangerous drug illegal, we can help give law enforcement the tools they need to get these drugs off our streets and out of the hands of those struggling with addiction.”

“The current opioid crisis is made increasingly lethal by a dangerous loophole in our trafficking statutes,” said Representative John V. Fernandes (D-Milford), House Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary.  “Since our current laws do not authorize a trafficking offense for fentanyl, individuals caught with large quantities of fentanyl, or mixtures including fentanyl or a derivative, can only be charged with mere possession or possession with the intent to distribute.  The need to address this problem is urgent and I am proud to sponsor this bill with Attorney General Healey.”

AG Healey was also joined by Cathy Fennelly whose son Paul Connolly tragically passed away six months ago at the age of 21 from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl. She is a member of Learn to Cope, a support organization for parents and family members coping with loved ones addicted to opioids or other drugs.

“We are pleased to support this legislation, which will hold accountable people who are putting an extremely dangerous drug into the hands of those struggling with addiction,” said Joanne Peterson, Founder and Executive Director of Learn to Cope. “Fentanyl is making this public health crisis even more deadly.”

In the past year, Massachusetts law enforcement has seen a significant increase in the presence of fentanyl, especially in drug overdoses and deaths. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, state and local laboratories reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013.

In June, the AG’s Office charged two individuals allegedly involved in an extensive fentanyl and heroin packaging and distribution operation involving more than $1 million worth of drugs, including almost one kilogram of fentanyl.

“This legislation will aid us as we prosecute those individuals who profit from trafficking in fentanyl. This epidemic requires collaborative efforts across various disciplines to address the proliferation of controlled substances in our communities," said Middlesex County DA Marian Ryan.

“The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association agrees entirely with Attorney General Healey that our drug trafficking statute should be updated to include Fentanyl," said William Brooks, III, vice president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. "While opiates like heroin and opium are already included, Fentanyl is not, simply because it is a synthetic, and even though it is actually more potent. We believe that Attorney General Healey's proposal to add Fentanyl to the trafficking statute makes a lot of sense, particularly now.”

Criminal drug trafficking laws in Massachusetts have not yet been revised to address the widespread distribution and use of fentanyl. Although state drug trafficking laws include dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin, they do not currently address trafficking in fentanyl, preventing local law enforcement from being able to bring appropriate criminal charges against those who traffic the drug.

Currently, individuals caught with large quantities of fentanyl can only be charged with possession or possession with the intent to distribute. This legislation addresses that problem by adding language to specifically criminalize the trafficking of fentanyl or mixtures including fentanyl or a derivative.

Recent updated statistics from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that more than 1,250 people died from overdoses of heroin and opioids in 2014 in Massachusetts, which represents a 15 percent increase from 2013 and a 57 percent increase from 2012.  In the first three of months of 2015, opioid overdoses claimed 312 lives in Massachusetts, putting the state on pace to match last year’s death toll. That amounts to about four deaths per day from opioid overdoses in Massachusetts.

Shortly before taking office, AG Healey announced the formation of an internal task force to aggressively combat the heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis in Massachusetts. AG Healey has vowed to use a multi-faceted approach to educate prescribers, pursue illegal drug traffickers and pill mills, and expand access to recovery and treatment programs in order to address this public health crisis.


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