BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A new Louisiana law that took effect Tuesday, August 1, is cracking down on people who sell drugs laced with fentanyl.
The problem is a big one. The number one killer of adults under 45 in Louisiana is not cancer, not suicide, but overdoses from fentanyl. So far in 2023, East Baton Rouge Parish has seen 161 deaths from fentanyl overdoses, putting the parish on track to break yet another record.
House Bill 90 by Republican State Representatives John Stefanski and Debbie Villio is the state’s latest effort to bring those numbers down and put dealers behind bars potentially for life, even on the first offense.
Under the new law, penalties are much more serious for those caught selling drugs laced with fentanyl.
“Now, if you’re caught with less than 28 grams of detectable fentanyl, you face five to 40 years, five of which have to be served without suspension. Over 28 grams, on a first offense, is seven to 40 years, seven of which have to be served without suspension. The second offense jumps up to 30 to 40 years, 10 of which has to be served. On a third offense, you face life imprisonment with no possibility of parole,” Rep. Stefanski explained.
The new law is aimed at the dealers and not the users who’ve fallen victim to the drug’s deadly grip on their addiction. When it comes to dealers, lawmakers said there will be a no-sympathy approach.
“I don’t have any sympathy for anyone who deals fentanyl. If you’re dealing fentanyl, you intend to kill people, and you’re going to face the consequences for that. And that’s what this bill does,” Rep. Stefanski added.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said when heroin was a problem in the past, a crackdown with law enforcement made the problem go away almost completely. But with fentanyl being so cheap, dealers all over are using it now.
“We were alarmed when we had 20-30 deaths that one year. I remember with Dr. Clark and the state police testifying that this is really getting out of hand. Well, unfortunately, last year, we had around 300 deaths just in East Baton Rouge Parish,” said Moore.
Since 2022, the East Baton Rouge Narcotics Division has seen more than 30 pounds of fentanyl and more than 20,000 pressed fentanyl pills, according to East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. That’s enough to potentially kill more than 150,000 people, which is almost twice the amount of people inside a packed Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night.
During the regular session, there was controversy over how law enforcement will accurately detect the amount of fentanyl in the drugs that are confiscated.
The new law had its challenges but was ultimately able to get a large amount of bipartisan support because lawmakers were looking for anything to get the problem under control.
In another effort to address the problem, part of the money Louisiana is getting from a huge opioid settlement will be used to help in the crackdown and to help addicted individuals get sober.