Two new criminal sanctions are being proposed by West Virginia legislators for officers and first responders who come in contact with fentanyl. This is a dangerous substance that has been exaggerated.
On Monday, West Virginia’s state House, by a vote of 94–2, passed H.B. 2184 was sent to the senators of West Virginia for consideration. This bill makes possession of fentanyl a new crime and makes it a criminal offense. For exposing workers to fentanyl, the maximum penalty is $500 and upto one year in prison.
Any government worker who is exposed to fentanyl will be charged with a crime, which can lead to a maximum $2,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Police officers and emergency personnel are not at high risk from an overdose from inhaling or touching fentanyl. This myth, that only physical contact will cause an overdose, is sometimes propagated by law enforcement agencies. It’s also uncritically spread by media outlets. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department published a video last summer that claimed to show a deputy succumbing to an overdose from fentanyl. The claims were not challenged by the media, and experts in opioids were consulted after the fact. It is highly unlikely that the deputy had overdosed from this kind of exposure. The video is available for viewing on YouTube, despite widespread discrediting by experts.
Remarkably, MetroNewsH.B. H.B. 2184 is not covered in West Virginia. The story quotes the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Larry Pack (R–Kanawha) as saying “we’re being overrun by fentanyl in our state. Mixing it with other drugs can lead to serious health problems and even death for first responders. This claim has been denied by experts.
The story does quote one of the only delegates to vote against the bill, Mike Pushkin (D–Kanawha), who noted that the bill won’t actually help deal with any real problems of opioid overdoses. It will prove difficult to convict anyone of this law, he says. The bill requires the “intentional” possession fentanyl. However, the truth is that opioid overdoses often occur when fentanyl has been added to an illegal street drug.
Pushkin further noted, FilterThis is a rare exception. MetroNews(He explains that there is no risk of exposure) That the law’s language doesn’t explain “exposure”, “Does that mean that they are in the same place?” Is it that they search for it and find it?
It has been defeated once before and it may not make it to the Senate. It has received votes, however, since being stuck in the Judiciary Committee of the state Senate last summer. Last time, 11 delegates voted against it. Only two people voted against Monday’s vote.
The bill will be similar to harsher crack cocaine sentencing legislation passed in 1980 out of scientifically unjustified fears crack cocaine would prove more addictive and dangerous than powder cocaine. These fears proved to be false. However, the sentences we received are still being unwound. These mistakes should not be repeated when dealing with secondhand Fentanyl exposure.