As the state struggles to combat opiate abuse, Attorney General Maura Healey wants to crack down on dealers pushing a popular heroin additive by criminalizing trafficking large amounts.
Fentanyl is a synthetic prescription painkiller, but when mixed with common street heroin results in a magnified high. Dealers can add fentanyl to their products without alerting users which elevates the chance of a dangerous overdose.
Healey wants to give law enforcement the ability to charge fentanyl distributors with trafficking to add consequences to dealing the drug.
The reality is that many heroin users don’t even know that the drugs that they’re using contain fentanyl. It looks just like heroin. It’s killing people it’s hurting people and we need to do all we can to get fentanyl off of our streets,” Healey told reporters at a Boston press conference Monday afternoon where she outlined the proposal.
Healey’s bill would criminalize trafficking over 10 grams of fentanyl and make it punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Possession and intention to distribute are already illegal, but this bill would add harsh penalties for moving large amounts.
What it won’t do is add a mandatory minimum sentence for a conviction under the new charge, a practice that has fallen out of favor among some progressive leaders in the state.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said the bill will be useful for prosecutors because it will allow them to pursue traffickers of fentanyl that right now can only be charged with possession and distribution.
“It closes that gap. It shuts down someone’s ability to make money off of this scourge without fear of punishment,” Ryan said.
Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford), the House co-chair or the Judiciary Committee, said the bill separates the traffickers from users who he says needs to be diverted out of the criminal justice system.
“It’s consistent with where I think we need to go, which is to make sure we make that distinction between those who need our help and those who treat this as a business without regard for the deaths that are the consequences,” Fernandes said.
Lawmakers from across the state have signed on to Healey’s bill and could take it up this fall when the Legislature comes back into session.