In a supposed attempt to curb the fentanyl problem in the U.S., Congress members proposed amendments to the Controlled Substances Act as it relates to fentanyl. In short, the bill aims to increase mandatory minimum prison sentences for possessing or selling smaller amounts of fentanyl. While Congress claims these harsher laws will curb fentanyl supply and demand, increased mandatory minimum sentences will likely not have the intended effects and will only cause a different set of problems.
There is no doubt that the United States is experiencing an opioid epidemic, and an increasing number of overdoses involve fentanyl. While fentanyl is a highly addictive substance that can lead to respiratory failure and death, many people continue to use the deadly narcotic by itself or in combination with other opioids like heroin. In the first half of 2018, 370 of the 515 fatal overdoses in Connecticut involved fentanyl, and experts do not expect the number of fentanyl overdoses to decrease anytime soon. However, Congress is misguided in believing that harsher criminal sentences will solve this problem.
Another “War on Drugs” Is Not the Answer
In the 1970s, President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” an issue that the Reagan administration largely focused on throughout the 1980s. Specifically, the administration passed significantly harsher sentencing laws for possession or sales of crack cocaine than that of powder cocaine, allegedly trying to curb the crack use across the U.S. However, these “War on Drugs” efforts did not work to reduce drug use, but instead resulted in the over incarceration of nonviolent offenders, including a disproportionate number of black offenders. In fact, the surge of incarcerated drug offenders led to the privatization of many prisons and the growth of the for-profit prison industry.
There are many lessons Congress can take from the failed War on Drugs of the 70s and 80s, specifically, that draconian sentencing disparities do not work to reduce drug use. Currently, many people who possess or sell opioids may have no idea that the drug contained fentanyl. Under the proposed law, someone who unintentionally had small amounts of fentanyl could end up spending a mandatory five to ten years in federal prison.
Harsh mandatory minimum sentences for small amounts of fentanyl will not stop addicts from sharing and distributing fentanyl to one another. Instead, it could only result in the unnecessary and extended incarceration of many people who need drug treatment, not time behind bars. Congress should approach the fentanyl problem as a public health issue, not a criminal one. Developing policies increasing access to treatment and support for recovering opioid addicts is the better and more humane approach. The ACLU and several other organizations expressed this viewpoint to Congress, as well. We will watch to see whether the bill passes or not.
Contact Our Experienced CT Criminal Defense Lawyers
Drug possession and distribution charges already come with potentially harsh and lasting consequences in Connecticut and in federal court. At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, we regularly represent individuals facing a variety of drug charges. If police officers arrested you on suspicion of a drug-related offense, please call us at 203-327-1500 or contact us online to schedule your case evaluation today.