Bill Would Enhance Penalties for Trafficking Fentanyl

Days after medical officials had to treat a pair of Ashland police officers for exposure to fentanyl, and as statistics show a nearly 50% increase in statewide overdose deaths, Kentucky lawmakers heard testimony about a plan to enhance fentanyl trafficking penalties.

Representative Chris Fugate (R- Chavies) sat before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary to describe his plan to require convicted fentanyl traffickers to serve 85% of their sentence.

Perry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Blair testified alongside Fugate. He told legislators he sees the opioid epidemic’s impact every day and fentanyl’s deadly consequences. Last year, he explained, one jurisdiction worked ten overdoses simultaneously. In that case, Blair said, first responders saved two officers with Narcan after they suffered effects of fentanyl exposure while on duty.

“When you think about the value of life, these drug traffickers know what they’re selling. The people that are buying, they don’t really know what they’re buying in a lot of instances,” Fugate said.

Representative John Blanton (R-Salyersville) offered to cosponsor the legislation. He reported that a pair of Ashland police officers were rushed to the emergency room after exposure to the drug during a traffic stop this week.

“What we have lost focus on, whether it is fentanyl or injustice in general, the new catchphrase of ‘criminal justice reform’ is actually a disguise for being soft on crime. All we’re doing is creating more victims. All we are doing is costing more lives,” Blanton said.

Next to Blanton at the committee sat Representative Jason Nemes (R-Louisville). Nemes also offered to cosponsor the bill but defended outspoken supporters of criminal justice reform, of which he is one.

“Criminal justice reformers believe that properly allocating scarce resources on serious crime like trafficking fentanyl is what we need to focus on,” he said. “So, by properly allocating our scarce judicial resources, we can go after serious crime and lead the people who need to be treated to treatment.”

The committee took no action, but cochair Ed Massey (R-Hebron) insisted they hear more testimony as the 2022 session nears.

Recently the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) Board of Directors voted to continue to support legislation that addresses the criminal aspects of drug trafficking and substance abuse that have led to the state’s drug epidemic while focusing on treatment, rehabilitation, training, and workforce reentry.