California lawmakers recently tried to take bold action to combat the growing fentanyl crisis by increasing the punishment for drug traffickers and sellers. However, according to an advocate, a bill that would have helped address the issue was “shot down” by the state Assembly’s Public Safety Committee on April 19.
Jaime Puerta, a California resident and president of the advocacy group Victims of Illicit Drugs, told The Epoch Times about the loss of his 16-year-old son, Daniel, to fentanyl—a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine—in 2020, and his disappointment in the committee’s decision.
Puerta described an escalating crisis in California, noting that deaths from fentanyl increased from 239 in 2016 to 3,946 in 2020. In an effort to confront the problem, Democratic California Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 2246 in February.
The bill aimed to prevent fentanyl poisoning by enacting harsher penalties for the possession, trafficking, and sale of the deadly drug with a special focus on attempting to sell to children through social media platforms.
“Currently, the possession of fentanyl is just a misdemeanor offense—a slap on the wrist,” Puerta said. If the bill would have passed, possession of two or more grams of fentanyl would have become a felony. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, one gram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500 people.
AB 2246 would have also established special penalties for selling fentanyl in the vicinity of young people around schools and playgrounds. “This would have placed fentanyl in the same category as heroin and cocaine” when sold in these areas, Puerta said.
The bill also introduced a penalty for illegally selling fentanyl online. “What lawmakers tried to do is enhance the punitive measure for selling illicit fentanyl online,” Puerta said. In addition, “the illicit fentanyl made in Mexico and the United States would have become a schedule I drug” and established a 20-year to life penalty for any distribution of fentanyl that results in death.
Historically, Puerta said bills that include any kind of punitive measure have been “nearly impossible” to pass, as is the apparent case with AB 2246. “The federal and state governments are not doing nearly enough to stop this madness,” Puerta said, lamenting that “kids continue to die every day.”
“Time and again,” Puerta said, “[parents and residents] are left feeling like the California legislature is more interested in protecting nefarious actors like drug dealers who abound on social media platforms and prey on our children than they are in protecting our children.”
“What can be done to get them to act?” he asked. He said the committee’s inaction will bring more deaths to California. “Why is the Public Safety Committee more invested in protecting drug dealers than they are in protecting our most vulnerable segment of society … our children?”
According to Puerta, the use of opioids prescribed by doctors produced the onslaught of addictions to drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin).
Furthermore, he said, the addictive opioids helped fuel the fentanyl crisis the country is witnessing today. With new policies regulating the prescription of opioids in the mid-2000s, addicts began searching for an alternative. And heroin became one of the drugs of choice.
Around 2013, fentanyl began to increasingly make its way into the United States in powder form from China. It was commonly added to drugs like heroin, heightening its effects and bolstering its addictiveness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin.
“As government policies were clamping down on the prescription of opioids,” Puerta said, “Mexican cartels began to figure out a new market and started pressing their own pills.” He described it as “the perfect storm from hell.” Cartels began manufacturing counterfeit oxycodone (OxyContin), Adderall, and much more.
“Addicts didn’t have to necessarily shoot up anymore; they could grab a pill,” he said, adding that this opened a “huge, unprecedented market” for the cartels.
Despite efforts by former President Donald Trump and his administration to curb the flow of illicit fentanyl from China into the country, Puerta said “the Chinese and Mexican cartels are not stupid.” The Chinese regime, instead, began supplying the cartels with precursor chemicals, giving them the ability to make fentanyl south of the border.
Fentanyl is easier and cheaper to manufacture than drugs like heroin. What’s more, “it’s easier to traffic into the United States,” according to Puerta.
In recent years, sales have also increased with the use of social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, according to Puerta. “Drug dealers are selling this poison to children through these social media platforms,” he said, adding that children do not understand that “all of the pills being sold through social media apps are counterfeit.”
Many of these children are not addicts, but more likely first-time users, recreational drug users, or those self-medicating with mental health issues. “They haven’t been informed of the dangers,” Puerta said. “They think they are buying pharmaceutically trademarked pills, but in all reality, they’re buying counterfeit pills made with fentanyl.” People are dying as a result of this deception, he said.
In a 21-minute documentary entitled “dead on arrival,” Puerta said, “stories are told, telling exactly what is happening from this scourge in the United States.”