By ERIC EYRE
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers are targeting criminals who manufacture and distribute fentanyl, a drug that’s one of the leading causes of overdose deaths in the state.
The House of Delegates voted 96-3 Thursday to approve legislation (HB 2329) that increases criminal penalties for fentanyl trafficking.
“The message we’re sending is, this is a scourge we want to stop, and we take it seriously, and we’re going to punish it severely,” said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer.
The bill sets a minimum two-year sentence for those convicted of making or transporting five grams or less of fentanyl. Penalties increase based on the amount of the dangerous drug that’s manufactured or distributed. The maximum jail sentence would be 45 years.
“We’re targeting drug traffickers, not the addicts,” Shott said.
West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths. Overdose deaths caused by fentanyl have jumped five-fold over the past four years in West Virginia. Last year, more than 150 West Virginians fatally overdosed on fentanyl.
On one day in August, 26 people in Huntington overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin during a five-hour span. Two of them died.
Earlier this year, an Akron, Ohio, man pleaded guilty to distributing the deadly batch of heroin mixed with fentanyl. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in April.
“These are sophisticated criminals, and they’re out wreaking havoc in my community, in our state and in our country,” said Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell. “I believe tough sentencing is required. We have a problem, and we have to deal with it.”
The House bill next moves to the state Senate.
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