House poised to pass fentanyl exposure bill

House poised to pass fentanyl exposure bill
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 8:12 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The House of Delegates stands poised to pass a bill Monday that will protect police, first responders, and even utility workers among others from the dangerous drug fentanyl.

Del. Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, spent seven years as a police officer.

That was before fentanyl spiked as the leading cause of opioid deaths, but he remains in touch with law enforcement and knows the risk fentanyl poses with just one search or one arrest.

“Just traces of an amount. Just a small amount could be life threatening almost instantaneously because of its potency,” Pinson said.

Within the past two years, a fentanyl exposure in Kanawha County caused a city police officer to seek medical attention.

House Bill 2184 seeks to protect all first responders, health care workers, utility workers, and corrections employees. It advanced on second reading Friday. It will be up for final passage Monday, and if passed, on its way to the Senate.

“Just breathing it, coming in contact with it, or touch can really be dangerous,” said Del. Larry Pack, R-Kanawha. “I mean it can kill you. This is a really dangerous substance.”

Those who unlawfully and intentionally possess fentanyl and, by way of that action, expose and cause physical harm to police or others protected by the bill could face a felony conviction. The punishment would be a potential 2-to-10 year prison sentence or a $2,000 fine.

Those who cause exposure without injury would face a misdemeanor.

Good Samaritans, who seek help for an overdose victim, would be immune from prosecution. That came from an amendment adopted Friday at the request of Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

Despite winning that amendment, Pushkin still opposes the legislation. He called it ambiguous and unenforceable.

“This bill will not stop people from using,” he said. “It’s not going to keep first responders any safer, unfortunately. What it will do is further clog up our jails and prisons with nonviolent offenders.”

“Really, it’s a tug of war that we found ourselves in,” Pinson said. “But make no mistake about it. These drug users, these drug dealers; they know what they’re carrying.”

It’s that knowledge, combined with the threat of extra punishment, that proponents hope will cause fentanyl users to think twice before they endanger others.

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