According to a recent study by the Office of the State Medical Examiner, Ocean County fentanyl deaths rose from 19 in 2014 to 51 in 2015. Fentanyl is odorless, colorless and nearly impossible to detect, compounding the risk for users who are unaware that heroin is now often laced with the far more powerful substance.
Unlawfully manufacturing or distributing fentanyl is currently classified as a second degree offense, while penalties for producing or dealing heroin or cocaine are more severe.
Sen. Holzapfel’s bill, S-1026, would establish unlawfully distributing, dispensing or manufacturing fentanyl as a first degree offense, doubling the maximum prison sentence from 10 to 20 years, with a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. Those convicted of unlawfully producing or dispensing less than one ounce of fentanyl would also face larger fines.
“As a former Ocean County prosecutor, I have seen the toll the heroin epidemic has taken on local families,” Senator Holzapfel added. “The massive influx of fentanyl poses a new and serious threat to our community. The Legislature shouldn’t sit back while more of our friends, family and neighbors fall victim to this extremely dangerous drug.”
The Assembly version of the bill is sponsored by fellow District 10 legislators, Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe.