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Arizona bill would heighten some fentanyl deaths to first degree murder

Although the bill itself does not directly mention cross-border drug trafficking, legislation targeting fentanyl has been the result of increased calls from the public for action on the issue.

Published: February 12, 2024 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

An Arizona bill would up the criminal penalties for those convicted in a fentanyl-related death.

Senate Bill 1344, introduced by state Sen. Anthony Kern, would make certain fentanyl drug deaths classified as first-degree murder. This means someone could face life behind bars or the death penalty if they are found guilty, according to a state law.

Although the bill itself does not directly mention cross-border drug trafficking, legislation targeting fentanyl has been the result of increased calls from the public for action on the issue.

Kern, R-Glendale, said in a statement that he hopes the border crisis continues to have drastic consequences involving drugs.

"Too many of our children are dying at the hands of cartels smuggling fentanyl across our border. The issue is continuously getting worse, and we must establish harsher penalties for criminals who bring this dangerous and deadly drug into our communities," the Republican told The Center Square in an emailed statement.

In state law, first-degree murder is considered the intentional killing of another person "with premeditation."

"Classifies, as first-degree murder, causing the death of any person during the course of and in furtherance of the offense or immediate flight from an offense involving the possession for sale, manufacture or transportation of fentanyl," the fact sheet for the bill explains.

Trafficking of the drug is common across the southern border due to high cartel activity. Above an extremely small amount that is used in some medications, it can easily become deadly.

The Arizona Department of Health Services estimated that more than five deaths are caused each day related to opioids, including fentanyl, according to its website. On the national level, 70,601 people died from overdoses involving "synthetic opioids" in 2021, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill on Thursday morning.

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