CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice’s bill cracking down on traffickers of fentanyl and other deadly drugs is set to go into effect on Friday, June 10, 2022.
Senate Bill 536, also known as the Fentanyl Bill, delivers on the Governor’s promise of being tough on drug dealers and traffickers by increasing penalties for distributing fentanyl in West Virginia and for transporting fentanyl into West Virginia from another state. This bill also makes it a crime to involve a person under the age of 18 in distributing any controlled substance.
“Going back to his State of the State address, Governor Justice was adamant in his belief that West Virginia really needed to crack down – particularly on the drug traffickers who show no regard for our people and bring deadly substances like fentanyl across our border and into our communities,” said Jeff Sandy, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “The Governor’s vision was to make West Virginia known, far and wide, as one of the toughest states in the country on people who get caught committing drug crimes. He asked us to work alongside the Legislature to make this vision a reality. It all came together with the Fentanyl Bill, and I could not be more excited that it is about to go into effect. This should come as a significant relief to all citizens who want West Virginia to be a safer place and who want to stop the scourge of needless overdose deaths we see all too often.”
“The changes that will result from the Fentanyl Bill taking effect are badly needed in West Virginia and have been a long time coming. But I’m proud that this day is here,” Gov. Justice said. “As I’ve said many times, the less that these dangerous drugs make it into West Virginia, the less of our people will die. I truly believe that this bill is going to make drug traffickers think twice before they even set foot into our state. They will know that, in West Virginia, if they get caught, we’re going to lock them up. We are taking a harsh stance on this because these terrible drugs are killing our people. Their lives are worth it.”
Gov. Justice signed the Fentanyl Bill in April, holding a ceremony with DHS leaders and members of West Virginia’s law enforcement community.
Fentanyl has become a devastating and expansive problem in West Virginia, affecting people and families from all walks of life. From 2019 to 2021, there was an 877% increase in total fentanyl seizures in West Virginia, correlating with a 21% increase in fentanyl overdose deaths from 2017 to 2020.
From 2017 to 2021, the top five counties for fentanyl-related deaths included Kanawha County (668), Cabell County (615), Berkeley County (337), Raleigh County (289), and Monongalia County (215).
Within the first eight months of 2021 alone, there were approximately 800 fentanyl overdoses in West Virginia.
Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and is lethal in extremely small doses.
The lethality of fentanyl prompted the need for harsher penalties for those who deliver, or those who possess with the intent to deliver, the drug within our state’s borders.
Although fentanyl can be found all over West Virginia, it is not manufactured here. From August 2020 to January 2022, a total of 625 individuals who were arrested on drug-related charges in West Virginia reported having home addresses that were out-of-state. Of those arrests, 137 of them were specifically related to fentanyl.
The Fentanyl Bill increases the penalty for distributing fentanyl from 1-10 years to 3-15 years and doubles the potential fines. Furthermore, the bill makes it a crime to knowingly and intentionally use a person under the age of 18 to distribute any controlled substance and provides for a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Contributing to its dangers, fentanyl is not always bought and sold in its purest form. It is often mixed, or “cut”, with other substances. West Virginia has seen a rise in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl or methamphetamine. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also reported a sharp increase in these fake pills, which have been seized in exorbitant amounts – approximately 9.5 million in 2021 alone – and pose a significant risk because the unintentional consumption of fentanyl can easily lead to an overdose death. It is reported that two out of every five counterfeit pills may contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
As a result of these dangers, the Fentanyl Bill also makes it a crime to create a counterfeit substance using fentanyl or to adulterate a controlled substance by mixing it with fentanyl.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 8, 2022
Contact: Morgan M. Switzer
Deputy General Counsel/Communications Coordinator
Morgan.M.Switzer@wv.gov, (304) 389-9043