HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – This week, Republican lawmakers are looking to strengthen penalties for drug dealers distributing fentanyl.
Lawmakers, families of fentanyl poisoning victims, and advocates say the current laws don’t go far enough. The statute of limitations for drug delivery resulting in death is two years in Pennsylvania, and on top of that, advocates argue that dealers, who are prosecuted for fatal overdoses, only spend an average of two to three years behind bars.
“That’s like telling a family that their child’s life was only worth two to three years,” said Laura Shanafelter.
Shanafelter is one of the thousands of Pennsylvania parents living their worst nightmare. She lost her son Tyler in Oct. 2020 to fentanyl poisoning.
Senate Bill 1295, also known as Tyler’s Law, is named after the 18-year-old who was dealt a deadly dose of fentanyl in what he thought was Percocet.
“That dealer didn’t just take my son’s life. That dealer took my life, too. I’ll miss out on everything that’s going to happen in my son’s life,” said Shanafelter. “Imagine not getting to see your child grow up, get married, or make you a grandparent. All that was ripped away from me and so much more,” she added.
Tyler’s Law is sponsored by State Senator and Republican nominee for Governor, Doug Mastriano. The bill would establish a 25-year minimum sentence for dealers charged with supplying a deadly dose of fentanyl.
“If you’re dealing death, you’re going to jail for a long time,” said Mastriano, who also sponsored Senate Bill 1152. SB 1152 would require law enforcement and emergency medical services agencies to report all overdose incidents within 72 hours to the statewide overdose information network. Mastriano says it will help improve overdose mapping and response. “We need to track fentanyl spikes across the state and have law enforcement, first responders be able to act more quickly so they can hopefully intercede before more beautiful people pass away,” said Mastriano.
Some Republican lawmakers in the House also expressed their support for the Senate legislation.
“Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for adults age 18 to 45,” said House Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Crawford/Forest).
Rapp says the synthetic opioid is often manufactured in China or Mexico, then trafficked into the United States through the southern border. She says suppliers and dealers are well aware of their deadly products.
“They know full well they are killing their customers,” said Rapp, who vowed to support the legislation if and when it reaches the House. “I think it’s a step in the right direction in trying to combat the use of fentanyl,” said Rapp.
Shanafelter says she’s been fighting for justice for her son ever since she lost him. She says it’s time to crack down so that other parents don’t have to experience the same pain.
“This crisis is killing our children at record levels. When over 100,000 people die from a poison, that is a weapon of mass destruction,” said Shanafelter. “Maybe these poison pushers would think twice when they realize that they could spend their life in prison for taking another’s,” she added.
Mastriano’s November opponent in the race for governor also happens to be the top law enforcement official in Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Shapiro’s campaign released the following statement to ErieNewsNow on Tuesday:
Statement from Shapiro for Pennsylvania Spokesman Manuel Bonder:
“Attorney General Shapiro sent the Legislature a report months ago detailing the urgent dangers of fentanyl and his Office’s law enforcement work to seize record amounts of fentanyl over the past year – and urging them to pass additional funding to stop the flow of this deadly drug in order to prevent fentanyl overdose deaths.
As Attorney General, Josh has worked to arrest more than 8,000 drug dealers, taken millions of doses of heroin and fentanyl off the streets, and sued opioid companies to bring $1 billion back to Pennsylvania for treatment to help victims of the opioid crisis. As Governor, he will continue bringing people together to hold criminals accountable, address the opioid epidemic, and keep Pennsylvanians safe.”
SB 1152 was amended on third consideration and SB 1295 awaits approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee.