New bill aims to increase penalties for fentanyl crimes

Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 5:15 PM CST
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - The State Assembly is trying to limit fentanyl use by increasing the penalties for its production and distribution.

La Crosse County recorded 39 drug related deaths in 2020, which set a new single year record.

Fentanyl was involved in more than half of those deaths, and Chief Medical Examiner Tim Candahl says that trend continued in 2021.

“We’re investigating 34 overdoses from 2021, 23 of them have had fentanyl on board,” Candahl detailed.

The usage of fentanyl has increased over the last few years, but Candahl says other drugs are continuing to circulate throughout the community.

“I’ve been in this job now almost 16 years, and been on several drug committees, and it just doesn’t seem like we’re going anywhere with it,” Candahl expressed.

A new bill passed by the State Senate and Assembly takes a step towards increased drug enforcement through making fentanyl crimes more severe.

“The penalty for producing, distributing, and selling fentanyl was in a different category, and was much less than heroin,” said Dr. Chris Eberlein with Gundersen Health System. “This bill brings them up to equivalency, and so you’re going to have about a 50% increase in penalties.”

While Eberlein is grateful that state lawmakers have developed a bill to target fentanyl use, he doesn’t think it’s the final solution.

“Is this going to have a massive impact, I don’t think so, but it’s part of the package working towards getting our communities healthier from opiate use,” Eberlein added.

That package includes doubling down on the ways medical experts are combating drug use in La Crosse County.

“Increasing support for medication assisted treatment, increasing behavioral health access, increasing Narcan availability,” Eberlein listed.

Candahl believes more simplified solutions are needed.

“There’s got to be prison time for the dealers, and the people that are addicted need mental health therapy and addiction counseling,” Candahl said.

The bill increasing fentanyl penalties has been sent to Governor Evers for final approval.

Candahl says there have already been six overdose deaths in La Crosse County this year.

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