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State Lawmakers Signal Common Ground on Proposals to Tackle Fentanyl Overdoses

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HARTFORD — Senator GOP Leader Kevin Kelly, and Deputy Leader Paul Formica, called a press conference on Thursday to announce a three-part proposal intended to target fentanyl overdoses.

The proposal includes increased law enforcement penalties for selling fentanyl, allowing access to Narcan in schools, and spending a portion of an anticipated $300 million settlement with pharmaceutical companies to create a public awareness campaign.

Speaking at the Capitol at noon on Thursday, Kelly said the opioid epidemic is a public health and safety crisis in Connecticut and that illicit manufactured fentanyl has caused the crisis to explode even further. 

“Fentanyl is a deadly poison and it must be treated as such. Illicit fentanyl is evil. According to the U..S Drug Enforcement Administration, two milligrams of fentanyl the size of a few grains of salt can be a lethal dose,” he said. “A lethal dose is minuscule. Illicit fentanyl kills like nothing we have seen before and it is taking the lives of far too many in our communities, our loved ones, and most especially the folks right here in Connecticut.”

Asked to comment on the Republican proposal, Democratic Deputy Pro Tempore Saud Anwar, said he welcomed the ideas, which he said were similar to legislation being considered by the legislature’s Committee on Children.

Anwar, who is a medical doctor and serves as co-chair of the Committee on Children and vice-chair of the Public Health Committee, said that fentanyl overdose was not a partisan issue. 

“I’m very happy that my colleagues on the Republican side are also making this as one of their priorities.”

The Republican proposal takes aim at a growing problem for the state of Connecticut — 1,374 confirmed overdose deaths in 2020 — a number 14 percent higher than in 2019. Of those deaths, 84% involved fentanyl, a rise of 26 percent from 2015 to 2020. As of Nov. 2021, 1,249 overdose deaths were recorded and the total number of deaths is expected to exceed 2020, according to the proposal. 

Kelly, who supported a “tougher” approach, did not say what the increased penalties would be for fentanyl distribution, nor did he know the current penalties or how many people were arrested last year for possession. 

“I don’t know, whatever [the penalties] are, they’re not working, I think we have a permissive policy and we need to get tougher on this,” Kelly said. 

Also at the podium was State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who serves as ranking member on the Judiciary Committee. Kissel said the Republican proposal would address the issue of fentanyl directly, partly through law enforcement measures for sellers of the drug.  

“To those folks who say, ‘Oh, you Republicans, you only say increase penalties and mandatory minimums,’ but in this instance, this is a deadly serious situation.”

Kissel said that fentanyl can be as much as 50 times as potent as a similar amount of heroin. He compared fentanyl to a bomb and heroin to a knife in the amount of damage each can do. 

“So we feel that if you had a bag of fentanyl, and its equivalent is 50 bags of heroin, that those penalties should be proportionate. It’s not just a knee jerk reaction, increase the penalties,” Kissel said. 

Kissel also said that further studies were needed on substances with substantially similar chemical compositions to fentanyl so that the penalties could extend to the sale of these substances as well. 

“We want to get our arms around someone who changes the chemical composition a little bit to try to avoid the penalties. And so we feel that that’s fruit for further investigation. And we would think that it’s only fair that an individual be charged appropriately.”

Also speaking was State Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, who said that the other piece of the proposal was to direct the state’s Department of Education to create a model policy that each town could adopt through their local board of education to allow Narcan to be placed in the schools and to provide training for its use. 

Asked about the Republican proposals, Anwar said that a bill under consideration in the Committee on Children would place Narcan into the schools for use in emergency situations.

“In our proposal in the Children’s Committee, we are putting in a requirement to have Narcan available in the schools, which actually can buy us time if, God forbid, there is an overdose in the environment,” Anwar said. “Just like we have epi pens, if there’s somebody having an anaphylactic reaction, we can actually give that injection to them and save that life at that moment and get EMS to come and help out.” 

Anwar said the bill also supported directing resources into opioid education for teachers, parents and adults in all environments where there are interactions with children. 

Anwar said he also supported increased law enforcement penalties for fentanyl distribution as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the crisis. 

“There is a whole chain of how some of these poisons are getting to our state and from our state on to the children and within this pipeline, when people are doing this intentionally, they are murdering our children. And there has to be a stronger law enforcement solution to this,” he said “There is no other way around it. Now will everybody agree with me on this? I don’t know. But I feel that this is a very important part of that solution.”

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