MOBILE – "Tremendous."Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) says the number of fentanyl deaths in Baldwin County is so big, he "can't put it into words." It is simply, "tremendous."During the upcoming …
MOBILE – "Tremendous."
Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) says the number of fentanyl deaths in Baldwin County is so big, he "can't put it into words." It is simply, "tremendous."
During the upcoming legislative session, Simpson does, however, intend to put in writing the penalties for those who deal in the deadly substance in an effort to slow the wave of deaths that have resulted in its spread.
Earlier this week, Simpson gathered in front of the Mobile County Courthouse with the sheriffs of Baldwin and Mobile counties and several members of both counties' district attorneys' offices to announce newly drafted legislation that will make prison a punishment for trafficking fentanyl.
Currently, fentanyl is the only drug that does not require jail time with a trafficking conviction in Alabama. Instead, Alabama law allows for a minimum fine of $50,000 for those convicted of trafficking one to two grams. Simpson said the drug was not included in earlier law writing because it is used in medical facilities.
Simpson's proposed legislation, which he will introduce in the 2023 session that begins in March, says manufacturing, selling or delivering that same amount would result in a three-year prison sentence.
The bill also proposes longer sentences for larger amounts of the drug while those caught with eight grams or more would receive a life sentence.
"The fact is this is coming in unchecked at the borders. It's more potent than morphine. It's more addictive than morphine and heroin and it's more deadly than both, significantly,"
Simpson said in a phone interview.
The Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which covers multiple states, reported 1,069 fentanyl deaths in Alabama in 2021, up nearly 136% from 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also reported a national increase in deaths caused by synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. Those numbers jumped from 57,834 to 71,238 earlier this year.
His hurry to pass the bill is justified by the number of people who die from exposure to fentanyl, a tally that has risen significantly each year in Baldwin County since 2017. That year, none of the drug deaths in the county were attributed to fentanyl. So far in 2022, there are 35 confirmed cases, and the coroner's office is waiting on toxicology reports for 20 more deaths.
"This is a situation where one pill will kill. A lethal dose is 2 milligrams," said Simpson, a former district attorney. "A sweet and low packet you find at any restaurant table is one gram. One gram of pure fentanyl could kill up to 500 people."
Fentanyl is produced in a lab, rather than grown as plants like other drugs. Therefore, Simpson said, production levels are higher, it moves into dealers' hands quicker, and it finds victims faster.
"This isn't like pot in the '70s. This is lethal, and it's spreading like wildfire and it's coming in through Mexico through those cartels," Simpson said. "This is an attack from foreign countries. They are not worried about getting repeat customers, they're not worried whether it is going to kill somebody. Their line of thought is 'Who cares if it kills Americans'."
Simpson said the bill is not intended to jail users but rather to remove traffickers from Alabama's neighborhoods.
The lawmaker said he is releasing the language of the bill now so that interest groups, law enforcement and other lawmakers can voice their concerns now and the bill can be changed as needed to prepare it for a quick and successful passage through the Alabama legislature in the spring.
"If anybody has any input, we wanted to go ahead and get the kinks fixed before March," Simpson said. "If we wait until March, by that time the session gets away from you and the bill doesn't pass. We need to go after these traffickers now."