SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California legislators are responding to the tragic and growing crisis of fentanyl by introducing dozens of bills aimed at increasing access to life-saving medications to prevent people from dying of fentanyl poisoning.
Over 5,700 people in California died from overdosing on fentanyl in 2021, according to the California Department of Public Health.
“It’s a crisis I see every day in my district. I live in the Tenderloin. I represent downtown San Francisco. Everywhere you look you see people who are addicted, who are devastated by drugs and in particular fentanyl and opioid,” said Assemblyman Matt Haney, Chair of the Select Committee on Fentanyl, Overdose Prevention, and Opioids.
Fentanyl is found all over California. It is not just a problem affecting cities and densely populated areas. Republican Assembly member Joe Patterson, who represents Rocklin, a suburban community north of Sacramento, has authored multiple bills to help end the spread.
“It’s one of the leading causes of death for people of 18-45 years old. Kids are dying from it, there are overdoses on school campuses now. So it’s something we really need to address and take seriously,” Patterson said.
Patterson has other pieces of legislation focused on educating people about the dangers of fentanyl. One bill would require schools to provide information about the deadly drug to parents.
Another bill would provide rehabilitation programs and education to people convicted of selling drugs.
Haney and Patterson are joint authors of AB 19, along with Assembly member Liz Ortega. The legislation would require all public schools in California to carry Narcan or naloxone, a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose.
Another bill Haney is working on is AB 24, which would require Narcan kits at bars, public libraries, gas stations, and single-occupancy hotels. Expanding access to the life-saving drug is just one part of solving the whole crisis.
“The reality is if you look around, there’s no magic solution on this. We have to do all of the things. It has to be a ‘yes, and’ approach. And it has to be one that has a level of urgency and scale to match the crisis that we’re facing,” Haney said.
State senators have also introduced legislation targeted at fentanyl. Senator Anthony Portantino, D-Glendale, authored a bill to make Narcan available at amusement parks, stadiums and other venues that attract crowds.
“I support the tough measures, but I also support and want to make sure that we’re prepared for the emergencies,” Portantino said.
Though there’s universal support for expanding access to Narcan, there’s been a division in the legislature for bills focused on the public safety aspect of fentanyl.
AB 18, another bill by Patterson, would have provided a written notice to people convicted of selling drugs, that they could be convicted of murder if someone dies from the drugs from the drugs they sell.
“[AB 18] would basically provide an advisement which you already have to do with DUIs when you renew your license that says hey if you kill someone while driving under the influence you could be charged with murder, that’s similar,” Patterson said.
AB 18 died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, but was granted re-consideration so Patterson can bring it up again later in the year.
“This is a public health crisis and even an advisory that you still might be hit with features from the war on drugs that we know has failed. I think creates the conditions that allow us to divert from the real conversations that we should be having,” said Assembly member Isaac Bryan at the committee hearing.
Opposition to the bill believed fentanyl should mainly be handled as a public health crisis and less as a public safety one.
“It is an issue where we don’t have time for politics, we don’t have time to do a bunch of studies, analysis and hearings. Everything that I want us to do with this committee is focused on real solutions,” Haney said.
The fentanyl committee will meet for the first time in April. The focus will be on three areas: the public health response, law enforcement’s role in the sale of these drugs, and the medical practices for treating addiction.
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