When lawmakers return to the state capitol on Feb. 9, they will debate strategies to reduce the rise in fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths - which recently included a 13-year-old in Hartford.
“Fentanyl is a deadly poison and it must be treated as such. Illicit fentanyl is evil,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said.
Kelly is calling for a comprehensive approach.
“Number one, increase the penalties for selling fentanyl, illicit fentanyl. Number two, support schools with guidance and access to Narcan and three, invest in awareness and safety,” Kelly said.
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Fentanyl was not labeled a narcotic until 2019, which means it's treated the same as other drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Republican lawmakers said fentanyl’s potency should be taken into account.
“If you had a gram of fentanyl and it’s equivalent to 50 bags of heroin that those penalties should be proportionate,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said.
Kissel said current laws don’t seem to be a deterrent.
“We believe in second chances. This isn’t about the victims. This isn’t about users. This is about sellers. This is 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 at a Hartford school, Republicans also want the state Department of Education to develop guidance for training teachers and staff on Naloxone, the opioid reversal drug in schools.
“We do need to spend significant funds on awareness and safety training, particularly in our schools,” Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said.
Stafstrom, a leading democrat on the Judiciary committee, said increasing penalties won’t solve the problem.
“It’s a Class C felony punishable by 15 years in prison, so it is a very significant offense for selling fentanyl,” Stafstrom said.
He agrees that the state needs to take a comprehensive approach.
“Addiction should be treated like it is - a disease. And we really need to be focused on treating addiction like a disease not as a criminal offense,” he said.