Legislators Petrie-Norris and Bates push for fentanyl regulations

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris speaks during a virtual news conference Tuesday.
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris speaks during a virtual news conference Tuesday.
(Screencap by Matt Szabo)

The usage and trafficking of the drug fentanyl has exploded in California in recent years, leading two Orange County legislators to push for stricter penalties in a bipartisan effort.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), who represents the 74th District, hosted a virtual news conference Tuesday along with state Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.

Assembly Bill 1351 was coauthored by Petrie-Norris and Bates and would reclassify fentanyl as a Schedule 1 drug like cocaine or heroin in California’s criminal code, enacting the greatest restrictions and penalties on its use.

Existing law classifies fentanyl as a Schedule 2 drug. Senate Bill 75, introduced by Bates, was coauthored by Petrie-Norris and is a mirrored bill also seeking to lower the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state.

AB 1351 and SB 75 also authorize courts to impose a fine between $20,000 and $8 million for each offense. They are expected to be heard by the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees this spring.

“It seems like the opioid crisis is the one thing in California that has not paused for COVID-19,” Petrie-Norris said during the news conference. “It is raging all across our state, leaving destruction, death and heartache in its wake ... Fentanyl is now the leading cause of opioid deaths. It’s one of the most dangerous and deadly substances in the world. Just two milligrams is enough to kill.”

The conference included three parents whose children died after taking fentanyl in the last two years. Jamie Puerta of Santa Clarita lost his 16-year-old son, Daniel; Amy Neville of Aliso Viejo lost her 14-year-old son, Alexander, and Matt Capelouto of Temecula lost his 20-year-old daughter, Alexandra.

Puerta said he found half a blue pill on top of his son’s dresser that he had believed to be oxycodone, but upon testing it was revealed to be pure fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

“I do not condone my son wanting to try drugs, but he didn’t deserve to die for it,” Puerta said. “Unfortunately, talking to my local law enforcement, they don’t have the tools that they need so they can actively prosecute these drug dealers who are selling these drugs to our children.

“They are walking the streets today, and I don’t understand how this can be. Our law enforcement and legislators, when they took an oath, they swore to protect and serve. We are asking our law enforcement and legislators to protect us from the scourge of fentanyl in our communities, and to please serve justice.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, there were 1,603 deaths related to fentanyl overdose in 2019, a large increase over the 373 fentanyl-related deaths reported just two years earlier. In Riverside County, District Atty. Mike Hestrin’s office has recently charged three men with murder for allegedly supplying fentanyl to drug users.

Amy Neville of Aliso Viejo holds up a picture of her late son Alexander, who died in June 2020 due to a fentanyl overdose.
(Screencap by Matt Szabo)

Barnes said the narcotics teams working for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department seized 12 pounds of pure fentanyl in 2017, 103 pounds in 2018 and 208 pounds of the substance in 2019.

“It’s exponentially increasing every year, and it’s because the law does not include this narcotic,” Barnes said.

“It’s less costly to purchase for the cartels, and it’s easier to traffic because one kilo of fentanyl is equivalent to 50 kilos of heroin ... I can’t stress enough how much we’ve been fighting to change this law. The law as it exists today has enhanced penalties for trafficking sales of narcotics for methamphetamine, for heroin, for cocaine, but it explicitly does not include fentanyl.”

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