Fentanyl bill debated in House Judiciary before being sent to full House for consideration

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would make it a crime when someone in possession of fentanyl exposes the drug to a first responder.

HB 2184, which cleared the committee on a 22-1 vote, would create a misdemeanor crime if governmental representatives, health care providers, utility workers, law enforcement officers, correctional employees and emergency medical service personnel are exposed to fentanyl. The crime would be a felony if the first responder is physically harmed as a result of the exposure.

Larry Pack

Bill sponsor, Del. Larry Pack, R-Kanawha, told fellow judiciary committee members the bill is about protecting those whose job is about protecting others.

“My intent is to really protect the first responders,” Pack said. “We’re being overrun by fentanyl in our state. They are mixing it with a lot of different drugs and it really does expose our first responders to illness and even death.”

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that’s contributed to thousands of deadly overdoses in West Virginia. Most of the time the drug is smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico.

Pack was questioned by some delegates on whether someone should be held responsible for exposing someone to the drug without intent. Pack said the person who possesses the drug has already made a choice.

“The person who has possession takes the risk of this charge once they make the decision to be in possession of this drug,” Pack said.

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, was the only committee member to vote against the bill. He said it won’t help with the real problems associated with the opioid epidemic.

Mike Pushkin

“This isn’t going to work, it’s not going to have the desired effect,” Pushkin said. “What you really are creating is a monstrosity of a law that’s going to be very difficult to convict anybody of because you would have to show that they intentionally purchased something that is often put in other drugs.”

Pushkin said if lawmakers want to do something to eliminate the problem they should make it easier for people to get fentanyl test strips to see if the drugs they have do contain the dangerous fentanyl or not. Pushkin said last year’s harm reduction bill makes it more difficult for drug users to obtain the strips.

Pushkin said lawmakers need to think more about their responses to the epidemic.

“We’re going to have a lot of well-intended, stupid bills this year and I suggest you think about it before you vote for it,” Pushkin said. “It’s not going to have the desired effect, you’re not going to help anybody, you’re going to clog up our jails and prisons systems and it’s going to make it much harder for our prosecutors to do their jobs.”

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

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