By COLE LAUTERBACH
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) — An Arizona lawmaker wants to strengthen the penalty for drug dealers whose narcotics kill someone.
State Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott, has introduced House Bill 2021, which, he said, would greatly strengthen penalties for individuals proven to have knowingly sold fentanyl-tainted drugs that lead to a person’s death. The legislation would classify drug trafficking homicide as a Class 1 felony in Arizona.
“We are in a war to save lives,” Rep. Nguyen said. “Fentanyl is an extremely powerful and dangerous drug that’s responsible for killing tens of thousands of Americans each year. Its deadly impact on Arizonans is growing, and many families in Yavapai County have been destroyed because of it. This is a public crisis, and it needs to stop now.”
The penalty for a Class 1 felony in Arizona is at least 10 years in prison.
Rep. Nguyen said the legislation would arm prosecutors with tougher legal penalties that could be used to hold accountable drug traffickers and dealers for overdose deaths.
The bill was filed four days after Scottsdale police, in cooperation with the Phoenix bureau of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, announced it seized 1.7 million pills containing fentanyl, estimated to be enough to kill 700,000 people.
First made in China, fentanyl arrives at key Mexican Sinaloa-controlled ports where cartel operatives turn the drug into pills that look like prescription pills to sell primarily in the U.S. market brought by traffickers across the border.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data in November that showed overdose deaths in Arizona increased 33% to 2,743 from February 2020 to April 2021. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl accounted for nearly two-thirds of those deaths. Fentanyl is multiple times more potent than typical painkillers such as Oxycontin. The powerful opioid has become a popular drug to smuggle across the southern border into California and Arizona, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.