When lawmakers return to the state capitol on February 9, they will debate strategies to curb the rise in overdoses and deaths linked to fentanyl – which recently included a 13-year-old in Hartford.
“Fentanyl is a deadly poison and should be treated as such. Illicit fentanyl is bad,” said Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly.
Kelly calls for a comprehensive approach.
“First, increase penalties for selling fentanyl, illicit fentanyl. Second, support schools with guidance and access to Narcan and third, invest in awareness and safety,” Kelly said.
Fentanyl was only labeled as a narcotic in 2019, meaning it’s treated the same as other drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Republican lawmakers have said the potency of fentanyl should be considered.
“If you had one gram of fentanyl and that equals 50 bags of heroin, those sentences should be proportionate,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.
Kissel said current laws don’t appear to be a deterrent.
“We believe in second chances. It’s not about the victims. They are not users. It’s about the sellers. It’s about the supply chain,” Kissel said.
The state’s chief medical examiner reported that 84% of the 1,374 drug overdose deaths in 2020 were caused by fentanyl.
“Two grams of fentanyl, the size of a few grains of salt, can be a lethal dose,” Kelly said.
In response to the death of a 13-year-old teenager at a Hartford school, Republicans also want the state’s Department of Education to develop guidelines for training teachers and staff on naloxone, the drug of reversal of opioids in schools.
Police have identified a person they are calling a person of interest as they continue to investigate the fentanyl overdose death of a 13-year-old student in Hartford.
“We need to spend significant funds on safety awareness and training, especially in our schools,” said Rep. Steve Staffrom, D-Bridgeport.
Staffstrom, a senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said increasing penalties would not solve the problem.
“It’s a class C felony punishable by 15 years in prison, so it’s a very significant offense for the sale of fentanyl,” Staffrom said.
He agrees that the state should take a comprehensive approach.
“Addiction should be treated as it is – a disease. And we really need to focus on treating addiction as a disease and not as a criminal offence,” he said.