Assemblymember Focuses on More Than Incarceration to Fight Fentanyl Crisis

Pills & drugs, healthcare photo. Free public domain CC0 image.

By Citlalli Florez

SACRAMENTO, CA – California is facing a fentanyl crisis—a drug which can be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine has become the fastest-growing cause of death for the state’s youth, said California Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica) in an opinion piece in the Orange County Register.

Zbur wrote that because of the strength of fentanyl, it is often added to other drugs so that they may become cheaper and powerful. The drug is often consumed unknowingly because it is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. This makes it difficult to detect, which can be dangerous.

This year, addressing the fentanyl crisis has been one of the highest priorities for the California Legislature.

In the opinion piece, the assemblymember notes both Democrats and Republicans have introduced many measures to fight against the crisis, from bills that focus on the criminality of the drug trade which have been heard in the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees.

Measures also aim, he said, at the mental and physical components of addictions have also been planned out by the Health and Education Committees of both houses.

Zbur noted Republicans seemed more focused on the crisis to reignite the war on drugs, that taking a “lock ‘em all up” approach would reignite old culture wars and re-criminalize only a small quantity of drugs.

But, Zbur warns, this would continue to have a negative impact on youth from marginalized communities and fill prisons with people from these groups.

Multiple studies and drug policies have shown that longer penalties for drug possession don’t actually prevent crime but instead extend prison sentences and break up families and communities. Such effects could last generations, argues Zbur.

Laws already contain penalties for the possession and sale of fentanyl. Selling or offering fentanyl would already subject an individual to five years in prison, said Zbur.

According to Zbur, under the GOP’s proposals, if a young person unknowingly has a pill which contains fentanyl and gives it to a friend, they would be thrown into prison, “dissuading people from calling 911 in the event of a potential overdose.”

Republicans in Sacramento are not only focused on increasing penalties for fentanyl, they are also attempting to increase prison sentences, said Zbur, adding under such proposals “a kid with a single pill of another substance that is not fentanyl would be imprisoned as well.”

Zbur adds mass incarceration wastes valuable resources and destroys families and lives, re-victimizing the people at the forefront of the crisis. The policies miss what should be the focus of collective efforts.

Zbur wrote that he believes policies should be prosecuting large-scale dealers who are driving the fentanyl crisis, and the law should be used “to crack down on drug traffickers who are intentionally putting large amounts of deadly fentanyl into pills and drugs that reach our communities.”

The representative revealed he voted twice for AB 701, which would allegedly put fentanyl in the same category of controlled substances such as heroin and cocaine.

He also believes that the state should invest in a broad public education and health system that informs young people of the risks of fentanyl and makes test strips and Narcan broadly available.

Zbur states, “Supplying test strips and Narcan to local governments, law enforcement agencies, libraries, schools, bars, clubs, and other public spaces is one of the most effective ways to reduce fatal overdoses.

“Funding would need to be increased for substance treatment services to ensure that anyone who needs a drug program would also have access. It is stated that it is ‘nearly impossible for most folks to access a program that prescribes medication to treat opioid abuse.’”

Assemblymember Zbur said there have been a number of comprehensive policies in the California State Legislature this year which focused on proven strategies that he would be pleased to support.

And he revealed he is co-authoring AB 1060,which would ensure universal and cost-free coverage of naloxone to treat an opioid overdose.

He said he also supported AB 474 which would strengthen cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies  to “disrupt and dismantle fentanyl trafficking networks.”

Zbur also co-authored AB 33 which would establish a task force to address fentanyl addiction and overdoses.

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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