By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Fentanyl and the deaths it is causing may be Alabama’s biggest drug problem right now, a lawmaker from Baldwin County says. But it’s also the only drug for which a trafficking conviction does not require jail time.
Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, will sponsor next year legislation to make prison a punishment for trafficking fentanyl.
“As dangerous and as deadly as this drug is, for it to not have the same penalties as other drugs is just unacceptable,” Simpson told Alabama Daily News on Monday.
Current Alabama law allows for a minimum fine of $50,000 for those convicted of trafficking one to two grams of fentanyl. Simpson’s proposed legislation says manufacturing, selling or delivering that same amount would result in a three-year prison sentence. Proposed sentences are longer for larger amounts of the drug; eight grams or more would get a life sentence.
Alabama’s surrounding states all require prison time for fentanyl distribution.
According to the multi-state Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, there were 1,069 fentanyl deaths in Alabama in 2021, an increase of almost 136% from 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year reported a nationwide increase in deaths caused by synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, from 57,834 to 71,238. Leaders from many states are seeking ways to curb the flow of the drug from China and through Mexico.
As few as two milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly, depending on a person’s size, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. And because sellers use fentanyl to make other drugs like cocaine, heroine and counterfeit prescription pills more potent and addictive, users may not know they’re receiving fentanyl.
That overdose deaths in Alabama have included teens is of particular concern to Simpson.
“The purpose (of this bill) isn’t to go after the users,” said Simpson, a former assistant district attorney in Baldwin and Mobile counties. “It’s to go after the traffickers, those who bring this drug here, to our communities.”
Earlier this year, the Legislature legalized testing strips that detect fentanyl in other drugs. Supporters said they hope making the strips more accessible could reduce accidental overdoses.
The 2023 legislative session begins in March.