Last week, fentanyl was a contentious topic during the debate on criminal justice reform in the House. An amendment to that bill would have imposed a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years (with the possibility of a life sentence) on people who sell drugs that result in the death of the user of those drugs, a proposal strongly backed by Governor Baker. Supporters of the amendment asked their colleagues why they were not ready or willing to send a strong message of condemnation to drug dealers. Opponents, readily acknowledging the heartbreak of the opioid crisis, argued that the amendment was merely a hollow gesture: the law already allows prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against drug dealers if the facts of the case support it and the courts can determine appropriate sentences for people convicted of the crimes. The amendment was rejected, 110-41.
This week, the opponents of the amendment were vindicated (although in a sad and painful fashion) in Berkshire Superior Court, when a judge imposed a six-year sentence on a man who had sold fentanyl-laced heroin to a person who later died of an overdose. The heartbreak of the opioid crisis continues: the defendant in the case isn’t a drug kingpin profiting from the misery of others. Yes, he sold the heroin. He’s married to a person who is addicted to it and the couple was selling the drug to a small group of users to help support her habit. Charges against her are still pending.