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Kentucky House enhances penalties for fentanyl trafficking

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J. Tyler Franklin
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Drug traffickers would face stiffer penalties for selling the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl under a bill the Kentucky House passed Monday.

Citing a surge in overdose deaths in Kentucky amid the pandemic, Republican Rep. Chris Fugate, of Chavies, said many of the fatalities were due to the synthetic opioid.

“[HB 215] is a bill that sends a message to those that traffic in fentanyl in the state of Kentucky that there are harsh consequences for bringing the poison to the streets and hollers of Kentucky,” he said.

The bill Fugate is sponsoring would require traffickers of carfentanil, fentanyl, or its derivatives to serve at least 85% of their sentence before they are eligible for parole or early release. That’s up from a previous requirement of 50%.

In a 12-month period ending in September, nearly 2,400 people died from overdoses in Kentucky, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and its derivatives contributed to around 70% of those cases.

Opponents of the bill said the enhanced penalties wouldn’t deter traffickers and would result in the state spending more money to incarcerate people. Rep. Joni Jenkins of Shively, a Democrat, said it would be better to spend the money on treatment instead of punishment.

“What I have learned is increased penalties in incarceration don’t move the needle,” Jenkins said.

The House passed the bill on a 82-12 vote. It now moves to the Senate.