Shared from the 9/1/2017 Reading Eagle eEdition

Pa.’s top prosecutor proposes mandatory fentanyl sentences

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READING EAGLE: JEREMY DREY

State Rep. Barry Jozwiak, left, was among local lawmakers and law enforcement personnel who met Thursday with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, right, at Reading Regional Airport for an informal roundtable discussion about the opioid crisis.

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READING EAGLE: JEREMY DREY

Berks County officials listen as Assistant Chief Deputy Coroner Jonn M. Hollenbach, with his back to the camera, speaks about overdoses during a discussion of the opioid crisis Thursday at Reading Regional Airport.

Pennsylvania should set mandatory sentences for drug dealers who sell fentanyl-laced drugs to combat the state’s deadly heroin and opioid epidemic, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Thursday during an informal discussion with Berks County’s state lawmakers at the Reading Regional Airport.

The roundtable discussion, which included Berks County’s commissioners and other county and law enforcement officials, was one of three Shapiro held in the eastern half of the state to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. He also met with officials in Chester and Lehigh counties.

“The stronger we can be in our state sentencing, the better,” Shapiro told state legislators and legislative staffers who attended the discussion, held in a boardroom at the airport. Part of the discussion was held privately, then opened to the media. “Stiffer penalties for fentanyl would go a long way in helping us.”

While fentanyl, a strong opioid, has become known as the deadly substance with which heroin is laced, it also has been found in cocaine, crack and methamphetamine, Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said.

Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in heroin deaths and seventh in opioid drug deaths, according to a study published Aug. 7 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The study, by Dr. Christopher J. Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, estimated that Pennsylvania’s actual death rate from heroin was 8.1 per 100,000 people in 2014, and while the death rate from all opioid drugs was 17.8 per 100,000, both far worse than figures reported by the federal government.

Shapiro also proposed mandatory refresher courses on opioids for doctors in the state, which could mirror efforts in some other states. In Georgia, the state’s Composite Medical Board, which licenses physicians, approved a rule Aug. 10 that would require the state’s 48,000 doctors to get training on prescribing opioids.

“We’ve seen the evidence that it goes a long way,” Shapiro told local legislators. “It’s really important and we hope there will be some attention paid to that.”

State Rep. Barry Jozwiak, a Republican from Bern Township, said Shapiro’s proposal of mandatory sentences for dealers who sell fentanyllaced drugs is “something we will move on” in the General Assembly. Jozwiak is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“These drug dealers know if it’s a mandatory sentence, they’re going to go to jail, there’s no question about it,” Jozwiak said.

Since taking office in January, Shapiro’s office has arrested 844 drug dealers and distributed 300,000 drug disposal bags that allow residents to safely throw prescription drugs in their trash. In June, he announced that he has joined a group of state attorneys general in an investigation of the marketing and promotion of painkillers by drug manufacturers.

Shapiro said of his threecounty roundtable talks: “We have to work together in a collaborative way.”

Contact Jim Lewis: 610-371-5059 or jlewis@readingeagle.com.

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