COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate has moved legislation that would up the criminal penalties for the sale of a powerful opioid that is being added to heroin and increasing overdoses in the state.
SB 237 passed on a vote of 25-2 and heads to the Ohio House for further consideration. That chamber would have to act on the proposed law changes in coming days, or the bill would have to be reintroduced next session for further consideration.
The legislation was offered by Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley), at the suggestion of prosecutors in Wayne County.
“Fentanyl and Carfentanil are killing Ohioans in record numbers,” he said. “It’s not an overstatement to call it an epidemic. This stuff is lethal, deadly, and our constituents want us to address this scourge on their communities.”
SB 237 focuses on fentanyl, which is sold under the prescription names Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze and which has been linked to increasing overdose deaths in the state. The drug is typically used in anesthesia to treat patients with extreme pain or to manage pain after surgery and is more potent than heroin.
Last year, a record 3,050 Ohio residents died as a result of unintentional drug overdoses, up from 2,531 a year earlier and 2,110 in 2013, according to statistics released by the Ohio Department of Health earlier this year. Fentanyl helped push the results higher, accounting for 1,155 overdose deaths.
SB 237 would reduce the volume of fentanyl required to constitute a “bulk amount” under the state’s drug offense laws, effectively enabling increased criminal penalties and mandatory prison time for those who are selling batches of the drug illegally or mixing it with other drugs.
LaRose said the bill is aimed at punishing drug traffickers.
“This bill quite simply makes sure that we can appropriately handle those individuals who are trafficking this poison in our communities,” he said. “Now I think we all share the belief that addicts deserve treatment, and traffickers deserve prison.”
He added, “This is nasty stuff. Very small quantities are deadly.”
Sen. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) opposed the bill, noting that the state’s prison system is already over capacity, with a significant number of inmates serving drug-related sentences.
“This bill not only sweeps up those heavy traffickers, but it will sweep up a lot of users, low-level users,” he said. “I do agree that this is a deadly drug, we need to [deal with it], but it’s not opening up the prison doors. It should be opening up treatment beds, and that’s something we’re failing to do, horribly, in this state….”
He added, “Money for treatment, not money for jail.”
Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) urged opponents of the bill to reconsider.
“It would be a big mistake for you to vote against a bill that deals with the most poisonous substance known to man in drugs,” he said. “… This is a killer drug… This is really serious stuff, and the bill has been narrowly crafted to deal with something… we’re talking about elephant tranquilizers, folks. They’re putting elephant tranquilizers in heroin. Now heroin will kill ya, but when you mix that with an elephant tranquilizer, you’re deader than a doornail, and something’s got to be done about it.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.