DAPHNE — The opioid epidemic continues to claim lives nationwide, and law enforcement and lawmakers in south Alabama are working together to act.
The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office confirms the majority of overdose deaths from January to October 2022 were due to opioids. Specifically, two-thirds of the 66 deaths were attributed to fentanyl. That’s why two lawmakers in Baldwin and Mobile counties are planning to introduce bills to stiffen penalties on those convicted in trafficking and death cases.
State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) has been working for months to draft a bill he plans to introduce in the 2023 regular session. The bill would put into place mandatory sentencing for those convicted of trafficking fentanyl. Currently, there is mandatory sentencing for trafficking other drugs such as marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine. Still, Simpson told 1819 News that it was time to take a stronger stance against fentanyl.
“It’s an epidemic in our society today,” said Simpson. “It’s killing so many people.”
The bill would impose mandatory sentencing for someone who engages in the unlawful sale, manufacture, delivery, or possession of one or more grams of fentanyl as a single component.
The sentencing minimums would be as follows:
1. Is one gram or more, but less than two grams, the person shall be ordered sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of three calendar years and to pay a minimum fine of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).
2. Is two grams or more, but less than four grams, the person shall be ordered sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 10 calendar years and to pay a minimum fine of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).
3. Is four grams or more, but less than eight grams, the person shall be ordered sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 25 calendar years and to pay a minimum fine of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000).
4. Is eight grams or more, the person shall be ordered sentenced to a mandatory term of imprisonment of life and to pay a minimum fine of seven hundred fifty thousand dollars ($750,000).
Simpson’s bill would also impose additional criminal penalties for subsequent violations.
After input from the Baldwin County DA’s Office, the District Attorney’s Association, the Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement in south Alabama, Simpson said he realized just how serious the fentanyl epidemic is in south Alabama.
“We’re on that I-10 corridor, and the traffic that’s coming through there is trying to get to that Florida and Texas drug distribution area,” Simpson explained. “So, it’s coming right through here.
“Fentanyl is one pill that will kill you. You might even know that fentanyl is in the drug that you’re taking. It’s .2 grams is a lethal dose. So, you’re looking at a Sweet-N-Low packet at a diner that can kill up to 500 people.”
Simpson said there have also been cases of law enforcement officers becoming ill after exposure to fentanyl. He believes the problem in Baldwin and Mobile Counties stems from the international drug trade.
“I think this was made in China,” he said. “It started over there, and for lack of a better term, I think it’s a weapon of mass destruction. I think they know people will die from it. After we cut it off in China under the Trump administration … it’s now coming through the backdoor of the open borders, and they’re using the Mexican drug cartels as the runners for it.”
Simpson said he hopes other lawmakers will see the importance of his proposal and will help cut off those coming into the state to make big money at the expense of Alabamians.
“If you take a kilo of heroin, you get that for about $6,000, you cut it up and sell it wholesale, you can make about $80,000,” Simpson added. “A kilo of fentanyl, you can buy for about $5,000, and you cut it, and you cut it, and you cut it because it’s so potent and so powerful that they can make a total profit of about $1.6 million off that kilo. So, drug dealers aren’t stupid.”
State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) has drafted a proposal that would allow prosecutors to charge distributors with felony manslaughter in connection to overdose deaths.
Earlier this year, a man suspected of selling fentanyl to a man who overdosed and died was charged with felony murder. Michael Elton Moseley was charged in the August 13 death of Brian Zewen. Just last year, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said his office had to put a focus on fentanyl cases after the overdose death of a 15-year-old in Semmes.
Simpson said overdose deaths are an example of why lawmakers must move to save lives and stiffen penalties for those responsible.
“They don’t care about whether or not it kills people because it’s so addictive that once it’s out there, there will be another customer right down the street,” he said.
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