LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Current drug laws are ineffective against the extreme lethal dangers of fentanyl, prompting lawmakers to consider two bills that were presented in Carson City on Wednesday.
Fentanyl can kill in extremely small doses, far below the amounts in existing laws on drug trafficking. That means deadly amounts of the drug — milligrams, not grams — don’t meet the minimum weights for serious drug trafficking charges in current law.
“One gram of fentanyl can kill 500 people,” according to Michael Schwartzer, chief deputy district attorney with the Clark County District Attorney’s office. “Two milligrams is lethal.”
Schwartzer said, “It’s not a drug for rich people, it’s not a drug for poor people, it’s not a drug for white people, it’s not a drug for Black people, or Hispanic people. It’s a drug that is involved in every community and every social status and every type of wealth. And it’s just killing and killing people.”
He said new laws would help in fighting the people who “put this poison into our community.”
Senate Bill 35 (SB35) and a companion bill, Senate Bill 343 (SB343), were presented by Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) at a meeting of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Together, the bills establish the crimes and penalties for low-level, mid-level and high-level trafficking for fentanyl, its derivatives or mixtures containing fentanyl.
Ford emphasized that the legislation is not meant to go after addicts.
Details of the ranges for the three crimes established in SB35 and SB343:
- Low-level trafficking: 4-14 grams, a Category B felony. Applies to anyone who sells, manufactures, delivers, brings into the state or possesses illicitly manufactured fentanyl or derivatives or mixtures containing fentanyl. Sentence: 1-6 years in prison, maximum fine of $50,000.
- Mid-level trafficking: 14-28 grams, a Category B felony. Sentence: 2-15 years in prison, maximum fine of $100,000.
- High-level trafficking: 28 grams or more, a Category A felony. Sentence: 10-25 years with eligibility for parole after minimum 10 years, maximum fine $500,000.
Ford presented 2022 statistics from the Nevada Overdose Data to Action Program that said there were 497 overdose deaths due to drugs containing a synthetic opioid (includes fentanyl, carfentanyl). In 2021, there were 566 deaths, according to Nevada health officials.
“And that’s just deaths,” Ford said.
Cannizzaro said 1,412 opioid overdoses were reported in Clark County during the first six months of 2022. She said if people were lucky, they just ended up in the emergency room.
Although he didn’t say her name, Schwartzer talked about the death of 17-year-old Mia Gugino, who died of a fentanyl overdose. Joshua Roberts was sentenced in April for supplying the drugs that killed her — MDMA pills that were laced with fentanyl.
He mentioned several other cases involving young Clark County residents.
“This is a drug that is killing our youth, and something needs to be done about it,” Schwartzer said.
His insights and experience in prosecuting cases revealed interesting details surrounding the cases he has seen, and hammered home the small amounts that produce deadly results for victims. “We never find more than 10 pills at most on them,” he said.
“Death is very immediate, and there’s usually a half a pill still left a lot of times,” Schwartzer said.
He said he could count on one hand the number of high-level trafficking cases he has seen, and those almost always involve pills in transit between cities. “For 100 grams of fentanyl, you need about 1,000 pills,” he said.