In the midst of a opioid addiction crisis in Massachusetts, there is an effort to close a loophole in the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced the filing of legislation Monday to make it a crime to traffic fentanyl — a synthetic painkiller that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Healey said drug cartels have figured out how to manufacture fentanyl and are sending it out on the streets where many heroin addicts are unknowingly using it.
"It is killing people. It is hurting people. We need to do all we can to get fentanyl off our streets," said Healey
Because fentanyl is not a narcotic, it is not covered by the same criminal laws that apply to heroin and prescription painkillers that have fueled the state’s drug addiction crisis.
Healey said a bill has been filed in the Massachusetts House that would make trafficking in fentanyl a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
"This is important legislation that I truly believe will make a difference here in our state," said Healey.
Democratic State Rep. John Fernandes, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the bill has bipartisan support with 57 co-sponsors.
" This is a gap in our system and it is one I hope we in the legislature can close quickly," he said.
A group of police and local prosecutors joined Healey at the news conference. Also speaking was the mother of a drug overdose victim. Catherine Fennelly of Quincy held up her son’s death certificate that stated the 21-year- old died from a fentanyl overdose.
" I watched my son Paul suffer for 8 long years. There is a new face of addiction. It does not look like you would assume, a homeless person on the street, no teeth, you know, a bum. It is our kids. It is you, me, a judge, everybody," she said.
More than 300 people have died from suspected opioid overdoses in the first three months of this year in Massachusetts. More than 1,200 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses in the state last year – a 57 percent increase from 2012.
In the past year, Massachusetts law enforcement has seen a significant increase in the presence of fentanyl in drug investigations, according to Northwestern District Attorney Dave Sullivan.
" Fentanyl is about greed," said Sullivan. " It is about dealers adding to the heroin to make it stronger and at the same time create a killer drug."
State and local police crime labs reported 3,334 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013, according to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System.