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Kentucky bill will increase sentences for fentanyl trafficking

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the untimely death of singer-songwriter Prince Rogers Nelson, allegedly because of an accidental fentanyl overdose. While the loss of this music icon certainly brought attention to the drug, Kentuckians know that too many everyday people in the commonwealth are also dying from fentanyl overdoses.

A new state law taking effect this summer will impose long prison sentences for trafficking in fentanyl and related drugs. Anyone facing fentanyl-related criminal charges should get legal counsel immediately to mount a vigorous defense. The penalties for conviction are too great to face without the advocacy of a criminal defense lawyer.

Fentanyl in Kentucky

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used medically for severe, acute pain in people with cancer or similarly painful conditions or who are undergoing surgery. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times the potency of morphine and is known for its highly addictive nature, which explains the explosion of illegal use.

On the street, fentanyl has become a health epidemic. The drug is often mixed with cocaine or heroin and according to the Daily Independent, some Kentucky cities have reported multiple overdoses of the heroin-fentanyl combination in stretches of only one or two days. Fentanyl and related compounds cause death by suppressing the ability to breathe.

Fentanyl available illegally may be manufactured in illicit labs. Users of cocaine or heroin may not even know that the drugs they are ingesting in pill or powder form may be laced with fentanyl.

The new law

Last week, Gov. Matt Bevin signed 2017 Kentucky House Bill No. 333, which will take effect in late June. The bill deals with certain crimes related to fentanyl and its derivatives and a related drug called carfentanil.

(Carfentanil is another synthetic opioid that is so strong it is only legally used to sedate large animals like elephants. It is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Carfentanil may also be unknowingly mixed with heroin or fentanyl.)

Key provisions of the new law are:

  • Creation of the state crime of importing fentanyl, fentanyl derivatives or carfentanil, a Class C felony
  • Addition of heroin, fentanyl or its derivatives, and carfentanil to the list of drugs of which trafficking any quantity is the Class C felony of trafficking in a controlled substance in the first degree; repeating the offense becomes a Class B felony
  • Trafficking in fentanyl at the 28-gram level, and in its derivatives or in carfentanil at the 10-gram level join heroin at the 100-gram level to constitute the crime of aggravated trafficking in a controlled substance in the first degree, a Class B felony
  • Creation of the new crime of trafficking in a misrepresented controlled substance, a Class D felony, for selling or distributing a Schedule I drug, carfentanil or fentanyl "while misrepresenting the identity ... as a legitimate pharmaceutical product"
  • Limitation of medical prescriptions of Schedule II controlled substances, including fentanyl, to a three-day supply with a few exceptions like cancer treatment, hospice care, narcotic treatment, major surgery and a few others
  • Limitation of oral prescriptions of Schedule II drugs, including fentanyl, to very narrow urgent or emergency medical settings
  • And more

The consequences

Convictions for these new fentanyl- or carfentanil-related crimes can bring hefty prison terms. For example, in general, but subject to certain exceptions:

  • Class B felony: imprisonment of 10 to 20 years
  • Class C felony: imprisonment of five to 10 years
  • Class D felony: imprisonment of one to five years

For all the fentanyl-related crimes described above in the bill except misrepresentation, the law requires that the defendant not be eligible for early release programs until he or she has served at least half of the time sentenced.

Clearly, law enforcement and elected officials in Kentucky are concerned about fentanyl and carfentanil from a public-health standpoint. However, in the push to investigate and charge people with these crimes, inevitably innocent people will sometimes be caught up or some defendants charged with stiffer crimes than their actions deserve.

Anyone facing fentanyl or carfentanil investigation or charges should talk to a criminal defense lawyer immediately.

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