Two Lawrence men just became the first convicted by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office under the new law cracking down on fentanyl, enacted last year.
While it doesn’t seem their sentences were long enough — just 3 to 4 years in state prison — it’s a signal to drug dealers that state and local authorities are taking the sale and use of fentanyl much more seriously.
With the new law in place, prosecutors can get tough on this dangerous drug, especially in light of the alarming statistics around fentanyl use and fatal overdoses.
According to a story in Wednesday’s Eagle-Tribune, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates 1,979 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, a disturbing record for the state and a 13 percent increase over 2015.
Of those 1,979 deaths, there was a toxicology test available for about 70 percent. Of those, three-quarters tested positive for fentanyl, accounting for 1,031 deaths.
So, 1,031 deaths vs. two convictions and prison sentences, so far. Nobody ever said the wheels of justice turn quickly, but that is a painful statistic to swallow.
Making it harder is the fact these men were sentenced to 3 to 4 years in prison. The law allows for sentences up to 20 years in prison. The prosecution sought 9 to 10 years. The judge sentenced the duo to 3 to 4 years. What’s the message there?
Selling fentanyl-laced heroin is like putting a loaded gun to a drug-user’s head. The chances of dying from an overdose are extremely high.
Fentanyl is a major killer — 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Drug traffickers frequently mix it with heroin without telling buyers.
Even small amounts can cause an overdose. So when police arrest someone with 82 grams of fentanyl and seven pounds of narcotic-mixing agent — as in this case — it is reasonable to think these dealers should be put away for a long time. Without knowing the inner workings of the plea deal, it’s difficult to know whether justice was really served. Perhaps these men gave up their dealer, enabling police and prosecutors work their way up the food chain to larger and larger fentanyl busts. Let’s hope so.
It’s likely 82 grams of fentanyl could go a long way mixed with heroin and “narcotic mixing agent,” whatever that is. If there is ever a way to link these or any other fentanyl dealers with the deaths they have may caused, we hope a murder charge would be considered.
As we all know by now, solving the drug problem can’t be done only through law enforcement, which is why a story in Monday’s editions of The Eagle-Tribune also struck a hopeful note in the battle against fentanyl. Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill is being considered for a study aimed at fighting the fentanyl plague.
The state’s Health Policy Commission had been planning to work with three hospitals as part of a two-year, $3 million pilot program focusing on treatment of patients who had survived an overdose or been administered the overdose-reversal drug naltrexone.
But Katherine Record, deputy policy director for the commission, told State House News Service the problem of fatal overdoses caused by fentanyl had reached critical, epidemic proportions and needed to be addressed immediately. That has shifted the thinking of the commission.
“Given the recent spike in fentanyl on the market, we now know that patients are less likely to experience a non-fatal overdose before a fatal overdose, sadly,” she said.
And that’s all anyone needs to know. If you are an addict, and you overdose, you are likely to die because of fentanyl. It’s that simple.
Get it off the streets and lock up the dealers. The sooner the better. Prosecutors need to use every minute of that 20-year suggested sentence. No more deals. No more bargains. Just get them off the streets. Too many people are dying.