The House of Representatives Thursday unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Arthur J. Corvese to crack down on fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is now involved in most overdose deaths in Rhode Island, through significantly stronger penalties for its possession.
“Ask any police officer, firefighter, EMT, or emergency room doctor or nurse what the greatest danger they see on a daily basis and they will tell you fentanyl. Far more potent than heroin or any other opiate, fentanyl is killing our family members, friends, and neighbors at an alarming rate and something must be done to end this scourge of death,” said Representative Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence).
The legislation (2017-H 5517A), which Representative Corvese introduced on behalf of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, would bring the penalties for possession, manufacturing or selling fentanyl in line with those for heroin and cocaine. The bill sets a maximum penalty for amounts between one ounce and one kilogram at up to 50 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. It would make possession of any amount over one kilogram punishable by as much as a life term and fine of up to $1 million.
Under existing law, a first offense for possession of fentanyl, no matter the quantity, carries a maximum penalty of only three years, and fines between $500 and $5,000.
“Fentanyl has been shown to be more potent than other heroin and opiate counterparts. In fact, the distribution of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced products have been linked to the increase of opiate overdoses in Rhode Island and nationally. While the state has made great strides in providing naloxone, increasing recovery coaches in our emergency rooms, and prosecuting drug traffickers, passage of this act ensures that those who possess large quantities of fentanyl are held accountable as those who possess large quantities of heroin or cocaine. I applaud the House of Representatives for passage of this important tool, one that will help to address the opiate crisis the state is struggling with,” said Attorney General Kilmartin.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe or chronic pain, or to manage pain after surgery. Street names for fentanyl or for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Fentanyl or other drugs laced with it have increasingly become arguably the most lethal street drug in Rhode Island in recent months. According to monthly overdose data on the Department of Health’s website, overdose deaths that involve fentanyl have outnumbered those that don’t every single month since March 2016.
“Fentanyl and the people distributing it are killing Rhode Islanders. Our laws must treat it like the serious menace that it is. Life in prison is not too much for someone who is profiting from selling something this lethal. The price its victims are paying is much steeper,” said Representative Corvese.
The legislation will now go to the Senate. It is cosponsored by Rep. David A. Coughlin Jr. (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Rep. Robert D. Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland), Rep. Robert B. Jacquard (D-Dist. 17, Cranston) and Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence).
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