State legislators around the country are seeking harsher penalties for possessing fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, despite evidence showing harm reduction and treatment are needed more, AP reports.
Before the beginning of this year’s legislative sessions, a dozen states had already adopted measures regarding fentanyl possession, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In recent years, many states have rolled back penalties for drug possession. Supporters of stiffer penalties for fentanyl say the current crisis is different. They argue that in most places, harsher sentences are intended to punish people who sell fentanyl, not just people who use it.
Recovery advocates say focusing on the criminal aspect of fentanyl is worrisome. “Every time we treat drugs as a law enforcement problem and push stricter laws, we find that we punish people in ways that destroy their lives and make it harder for them to recover later on,” said Adam Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Wandt said people who are incarcerated often continue getting illegal substances, often without receiving quality addiction treatment. When they are released, they find it’s more difficult to get work.