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Congressman seeks murder charges for fentanyl traffickers

Fentanyl is commonly mixed with other narcotics and is considered more than 50 times more powerful than street-level heroin.

Published: July 30, 2023 9:34pm

(The Center Square) -

Fentanyl dealers would face tougher criminal penalties under a proposal filed by a New York congressman, which calls for charging those convicted of trafficking the drug with attempted murder.

The Fentanyl Kills Act, filed by freshman Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., is the latest proposal in the Republican-majority House of Representatives aimed at cracking down on the sale and distribution of the synthetic opioid. The drug has been tied to Mexican drug smuggling cartels and remains a major driver of the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

Lawler, who represents several upstate New York counties, said the proposal "takes drug traffickers head-on, imposing serious penalties for these criminals who know exactly what they are doing."

He said in addition to addiction recovery programs, the federal government needs to focus on stricter laws that discourage fentanyl trafficking.

"The fentanyl crisis that is gripping our country and local communities is a serious problem and requires serious consequences for those who peddle this dangerous drug," he said in a statement.

Fentanyl is commonly mixed with other narcotics and is considered more than 50 times more powerful than street-level heroin. It is both odorless and tasteless, making detection of the compound by law enforcement difficult.

More than 109,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2022, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase over the previous year. Fentanyl is blamed for nearly 70% of the fatal overdoses, the federal agency says.

Amid the scourge of opioids, states have been toughening drug trafficking laws to target fentanyl suppliers.

In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law which creates a criminal offense of murder for supplying fentanyl that results in death.

Virginia has classified fentanyl as a “weapon of terrorism” in addition to biological agents and radioactive bombs in a move to lengthen prison sentences for convicted dealers.

Last year, a bipartisan group of 18 attorneys general wrote to President Joe Biden urging him to classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.

Republicans have blamed Biden and his administration's immigration policies for failing to secure the southern border from fentanyl and other drugs smuggled by Mexican cartels.

In May, the GOP-led House of Representatives approved a proposal that would permanently move fentanyl-related substances into the highest classification of illegal drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

The Halt Fentanyl Act, which was opposed by many House Democrats, would also establish mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug distribution of fentanyl without parole. The Democratic-controlled Senate has yet to take up the bill.

“Due to the Biden administration’s incompetence at the border, fentanyl has flowed into American communities and destroyed lives," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in remarks in May. "Democrats had more than two years to address their own self-created crisis, but they have failed to do their job and the epidemic has only gotten worse under their watch."

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