It has been widely reported in both local and national media that drug overdoses are now the single greatest cause of unnatural death in Virginia. As a result of this profound tragedy, Virginia lawmakers are urgently seeking solutions but are struggling to agree on what kinds of action would actually reduce the number of overdose-related deaths that occur in the state each and every year.
For example, lawmakers have recently escalated the debate concerning how fentanyl-related crimes should be treated when they occur. Fentanyl production, sales, possession and contamination are of particular interest to Virginia lawmakers because the drug is linked to more than 75% of current overdose deaths.
As one state senator remarked during a recent committee meeting, “Fentanyl is killing more Virginians than gun crimes and traffic accidents together. We need to tackle it.”
Are harsher penalties the answer?
There are several schools of thought concerning what action would address this pressing issue most effectively. Unfortunately, some “old school” approaches are surfacing, which suggest that increasing penalties for drug dealers will solve the issue. Given what the nation has learned about addiction and poverty as these realities connect to drugs over the past several years, this seems to be a misguided approach. As does the bill that has been introduced in the legislature that would classify fentanyl as a weapon of terrorism.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, bills are being considered that would extend credentials for administering naloxone for overdoses to more people and funding opioid treatment programs.
Although widespread evidence doesn’t support the overcriminalization-as-a-deterrent approach, it is possible that this is where the legislature will land. And that approach will serve as just one more reason why it is so important for individuals who are facing drug charges to seek legal guidance in order to protect their rights.