Deaths from Fentanyl overdose prompt Sen. Bill Cassidy to seek tougher penalties for drug dealers

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 7:57 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Overdose deaths from Fentanyl have prompted U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to push for a new law to charge drug dealers with federal felony murder if they sell the drug and someone dies as a result of using it.

Local communities are seeing increases in overdoses due to the Fentanyl sold on the street. Besides being highly addictive, it can kill unsuspecting users.

Amy Bosworth is Chief Operating Officer for Odyssey House Louisiana. The organization provides drug prevention and treatment services.

“It really is like Russian roulette every time you’re doing it, you just don’t know what necessarily what you’re getting,” said Bosworth.

Dr. Robert Sigillito is Chief Deputy Coroner for St. Tammany Parish.

“It really is an epidemic or even a pandemic in and of itself that’s taking lives at a much faster rate than anything else that we’re seeing right now, aside from, you know, natural causes in some elderly people,” said Sigillito.

He said Fentanyl is the number one cause of accidental drug overdose in their community.

“As of August 20th, we’ve had 74 total overdose deaths in St. Tammany, 63 of those were from Fentanyl or 85%,” said Sigillito. “Now just to give you some comparison data for 2019 we had a total of 93 overdose deaths and 46 of those or 50% were from Fentanyl, so the percentage of Fentanyl deaths has been rising drastically over the last eight or 10 years but we’re really seeing an upswing in the last two years.”

Bosworth says, while there are resources to respond to overdoses and help drug abusers, Fentanyl use remains a challenge.

“While as a city of New Orleans has done an amazing job training and arming first responders, there are so many people and there’s so much Fentanyl it’s way beyond the community’s capacity to keep up with and everyone’s trying all the time to be ahead of the overdoses, and we just keep seeing the numbers go up, the non-fatal and the fatal,” she said.

In Congress, Cassidy, who is a medical doctor, is a co-sponsor of legislation called the “Felony Murder for Deadly Fentanyl Distribution Act.”

“Now we’re going to arrest him for first-degree murder,” Cassidy said of the bill’s intent.

While not speaking for the coroner’s office in relation to the legislation, Sigillito said there is a similar law on the books in Louisiana.

“From a personal perspective, I would say that we do have a state law already in place, selling any type of drug that leads to or illicit drug that leads to death is second-degree homicide in Louisiana and has been for several years. The difficulty comes apparently in the investigations and the circumstances and being able to charge it,” he said.

Cassidy and some of his Republican Senate colleagues also sent a letter to social media companies asking them about alleged drug dealing on their platforms.

“Asking them to address social media being used to market drug sales,” said Cassidy.

Fentanyl pills resembling candy have been seized at the border.

“Cartels are manufacturing rainbow Fentanyl pills, which look like candy to attract children, which of course poisons children,” Cassidy stated.

Sigillito was asked about the dangers associated with a potent drug being made to look like candy.

“That’s a very, very disturbing development we’ve seen over the last month with the arrest of several individuals crossing the borders that have these bags full, of you know, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of doses of drugs that do, they’re colorful, they look like candy,” he said. “Clearly they are targeting the younger population with these colorful pills.”

He also spoke of another concern: Fentanyl-laced vaping fluid.

“So if someone is out at a party and they’re passing around a vape pipe and they think that it’s got some THC in it, which is apparently very common now, and it’s laced with Fentanyl, we could have a large number of unexpected deaths in a very short period of time, it’s terrifying to think about,” said Sigillito.

Bosworth said no one should be ashamed to seek help for drug abuse.

“Anybody, friends, family members, anybody who can help you. We do have a lot of resources in the community,” said Bosworth.

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