COPS TURNED LAWMAKERS PUSHING TRAFFICKING CRIME FOR HEROIN ADDITIVE
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 31, 2015.....Two freshman legislators, each with decades of experience in law enforcement, have put forth bipartisan legislation to criminalize the trafficking of a chemical they say drug dealers have been adding to heroin, giving the opiate a dangerous boost in potency.
Rep. Paul Tucker (D-Salem) and Rep. Timothy Whelan (R-Brewster) last week filed a bill that would add fentanyl to the list of Class B drugs that are subject to prosecution under the state's narcotics trafficking laws.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is "estimated to be 80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin," according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is often used in prescription form to treat severe pain.
"What's happening is that drug dealers are lacing fentanyl into the heroin, trying to give it an even bigger kick or a high," Tucker, who spent 32 years in the Salem Police Department, said. "Fentanyl is what's killing a lot of the men and women who have fallen to this addiction."
Prescription fentanyl exists under the brand names Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze, and is often administered by injection, patch or lozenge, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says. The type of fentanyl associated with illicit drug use, however, is produced in clandestine laboratories and combined with, or substituted for, heroin in a powder form, according to the institute.
Though there are laws against the possession and distribution of non-prescription fentanyl, Massachusetts does not currently have laws prohibiting the trafficking of the chemical, Tucker said.
Under the bill filed by Tucker and Whelan, which has not yet been assigned a bill number, fentanyl traffickers would be subject to the same penalties as traffickers of other illegal drugs.
"Fentanyl has been linked to many of the fatal overdose deaths that have taken place in Massachusetts, but our laws have failed to keep up with this growing trend," Whelan said in a statement. "The bill Representative Tucker and I have filed will correct this and will give law enforcement the tools it needs to more effectively prosecute those who seek to profit from this dangerous drug."
Tucker and Whelan each spent more than 25 years in law enforcement before being elected to the Legislature last year.
Tucker retired from the Salem Police Department after spending five of his 32 years on the force as its chief. Whelan retired as a sergeant from the Massachusetts State Police to take office after more than 20 years as a trooper.
In announcing a major drug trafficking bust last month, Attorney General Maura Healey and then-Colonel of the State Police Timothy Alben both spoke of the need for a criminal charge for trafficking in fentanyl.
Alben called fentanyl a "highly, highly toxic and dangerous chemical" and said officers are warned not to handle it without wearing gloves or "some kind of barrier protection."
As of Monday afternoon, Tucker said, the bill had 37 co-sponsors, though he expected that number to grow.
"I'm very pleased with 37 (co-sponsors) so far, but I have had a number of people let me know they'll be signing on to the bill," he said. "We're hoping for some strong support in terms of sign-ons and co-sponsorships and then hoping to advance it from there."