Sen. Kissel, Senate Republicans push for tougher penalties for selling fentanyl

January 28, 2022

Connecticut Senate Republicans push for tougher penalties for selling fentanyl

(Hartford Courant)

Prompted by the death of a 13-year-old boy in Hartford, Senate Republicans are calling for increased penalties for selling fentanyl, a particularly lethal substance that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

The lawmakers are offering a three-pronged plan that also calls for establishing guidelines to place Narcan in public schools in order to revive students who have overdosed. They are also seeking to create a public awareness campaign about the dangers of the drug by using money from the $300 million opioid settlement in Connecticut.

The opioid epidemic is a public health and public safety crisis in Connecticut,” said Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford. “Fentanyl is a deadly poison, and it must be treated as such.”

Concern about the fentanyl crisis was renewed by the stunning death of a seventh-grader at the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford. Lawmakers also noted the recent death of Lauren Smith-Fields, a 23-year-old Bridgeport woman whose death was not immediately reported to her family. An autopsy by the chief state medical examiner’s office said that her death was caused by “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol.”

Sen. John Kissel, the ranking senator on the legislature’s judiciary committee, and others said Republican lawmakers were offering a multifaceted package of proposals and not simply resorting only to a tough-on-crime approach.

“To those folks who say, ‘Oh, you Republicans, you only say increase penalties and mandatory minimums,’ ” Kissel said. “In this instance, this is a deadly serious situation. And yes, we’re proposing that we increase penalties for fentanyl.”

Kissel added, “We believe in second chances. This isn’t about the victim. This isn’t about the users. This is about the sellers.”

The criminal penalties need to be increased, he said, because one bag of fentanyl could have the potency of 50 bags of heroin.

The precise penalties were not disclosed Thursday as Kissel said the issue needs to be discussed with attorneys and fellow lawmakers in advance of the legislative session that starts on Feb. 9. The issue would then be subject to public hearings and votes before the session ends on May 4.

Senators also said they will work to establish guidance for allowing school districts to decide whether they should keep Narcan — a medication that quickly reverses overdoses — in the school buildings.

Lamont’s spokesman, Anthony Anthony, said Thursday that the governor is open to further discussions on the issue.

“In 2019, Gov. Lamont signed into law stiffer penalties against people illegally dealing fentanyl,” Anthony said. “As Gov. Lamont has repeatedly said before, his door is always open for good, constructive, and smart proposals. However, what we do not want to do is double up our resources in one place, instead spreading them around for other preventive measures.”