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Louisiana poised to stiffen penalties for fentanyl distribution, including life terms

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BATON ROUGE — A proposed Louisiana law that would stiffen penalties for those convicted of distributing fentanyl is pending Gov. John Bel Edwards' approval. In the worst cases, a dealer could be sentenced to life in prison.
The sponsor of the bill, Crowley Republican Rep. John Stefanski, says he has received assurances from Edwards' office that the proposal will become law.
Those caught with more than 250 grams of fentanyl could receive the stiffest penalties. That amount of fentanyl, 250 grams, weighs about the same as 250 paper clips.
"I'm excited that the Legislature by-and-large agrees we have to step up the penalties of fentanyl," Stefanski said. "We need to get really, really aggressive because that is what will set the chilling effect and the message to drug dealers. Don't sell this stuff or you will go to jail for the rest of your life."
Used as intended, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is often used in surgeries and in late-stage cancer care. Misused, it is often cut with other substances and rendered in various strengths. The drug has contributed to an increasing number of overdoses — some fatal.
Legislators this year adopted a tiered approach to penalties for misuse of the drug. Offenders can receive anywhere from five to 40 years in prison if they are caught dealing 28 or fewer grams.
Those combating the scourge of illegal drug use say the potential law could benefit their effort, much like saturation patrols in areas with a high level of illegal drug use.
"The DA's office and the Crime Strategies Unit come in (and) are able to say, 'Wait a minute. You need to highly saturate (an area)' and will come back a month or two later and say 'Because you were out in the area, we have seen a decrease in numbers,'" addiction recovery expert Tonja Myles said.
A decade ago, lawmakers targeted heroin in much the same way.
"It was deadly. The legislature took action and set penalties really aggressively and it ran this stuff out of our state," Stefanski said. "We need to get really, really aggressive because that is what will set the chilling effect and the message to drug dealers.


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