Whelan, Tucker file Fentanyl trafficking legislation

Reps look to close "dangerous gap in existing narcotics laws"
State Rep. Tim Whelan introduced a bill that would criminalize trafficking Fentanyl. Whelan spoke at a rally in January at D-Y High School in support of local law enforcement. Photo by Maggie Kulbokas.

State Representatives Tim Whelan and Paul Tucker have filed legislation to criminalize trafficking of Fentanyl. H4036, "An Act Relative to Fentanyl", is a bipartisan effort--Rep. Whelan is a Republican from Brewster and Rep. Tucker is a Democrat from Salem.

Both men, who have had extensive careers in law enforcement, see the bill as a way to close a "dangerous gap in existing narcotics laws." Attorney General Maura Healey has also publicly endorsed the criminalization of Fentanyl, according to a release from Rep. Whelan's Office.

"Fentanyl has been linked to many of the fatal overdose deaths that have taken place in Massachusetts, but our laws have failed to keep up with this growing trend and as result, police cannot charge individuals with narcotic trafficking even if they are in possession of large quantities of Fentanyl," Rep. Whelan said.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). When prescribed by doctors and used appropriately, Fentanyl is a powerful analgesic given to patients with chronic pain. Fentanyl is delivered in several forms--as oral lozenges, tablets, injectables and transdermal patches. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the DEA. 

When used illicitly, it can be either a substitute for heroin or cut with heroin. According to the DEA, the gel from Fentanyl patches is removed and ingested or injected. Stronger and much more potent than heroin, Fentanyl frequently results in overdoses, many fatal.

In March, the DEA issued a nationwide alert calling Fentanyl a threat to health and public safety. "Drug incidents and overdoses related to Fentanyl are occuring at an alarming rate throughout the United States," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "Fentanyl is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come in contact with it." For illicit purposes, Fentanyl is both stolen from pharmacies and created in clandestine labs. 

H4036 would add Fentanyl to the list of Class B drugs such as cocaine, which carry trafficking charges when 18 or more grams is found in a suspect's possession. Current trafficking laws for more than 18 grams but less than 36 grams mandate a prison term of a minimum of 2 years to a maximum of 15 years plus fines ranging from $2,500 to $25,000. The higher the amount possessed, the greater the possible prison time and fines.

The proposed bill would "give law enforcement the tools it needs to more effectively prosecute those who seek to profit from this dangerous drug," Rep. Whelan said. 

"This is a common sense bill that crosses political lines," Rep. Whelan said.

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