Should Disneyland be required to stock Narcan? California bills address fentanyl crisis

Fentanyl has killed thousands of Californians.

In 2021 alone, based on preliminary California Department of Public Health data, there were 5,722 fentanyl-related fatal overdoses in the state. That includes 224 among teens aged 15 to 19.

For years, the families of those who died from fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine — have pleaded with California lawmakers to address the crisis.

As the 2023-24 legislative session gets underway, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced bills to do just that.

From cracking down on fentanyl dealers to requiring life-saving naloxone be kept in schools and gas stations, here’s a look at the different approaches legislators are taking to address the crisis.

Criminal crackdown

Senate Bill 237, by Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, would add several years to sentences for fentanyl possession, distribution and trafficking, in some cases doubling the amount of time.

Existing law punishes fentanyl possession for purposes of sale with two to four years in county jail. Grove’s bill would increase that to four to six. Transportation and distribution currently carries three to five years in a county lockup, which Grove’s bill bumps to seven to nine. Finally, current law also punishes fentanyl trafficking with three to nine years in county jail. Grove’s bill raises that to seven to 13 years.

In a statement to The Bee, Grove said that fentanyl deaths are “a horrific crisis that is devastation families across our nation.”

“Fentanyl not only takes a life, but it also causes a lifetime of pain and suffering for users, their families and friends,” Grove said.

The bill is backed by the entire Senate Republican Caucus, though it faces a steep climb in the Democratic super-majority-controlled Legislature.

But Republicans aren’t the only ones looking to crack down on fentanyl.

Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Oakdale, has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 226, to make it a crime to possess fentanyl while carrying a loaded firearm.

Narcan in schools, gas stations and amusement parks

Senate Bill 234, by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, and Assembly Bill 19, by Assemblyman Joe Patterson, R-Rocklin, both require California public K-12 schools to maintain a supply of naloxone — better known as Narcan — on-site to deal with overdoses.

“The real epidemic in my district is kids’ access to deadly counterfeit pills. Fentanyl-related deaths in in Placer County increased 450% between 2019 and 2021 with half of the victims being under 25 years old,” Patterson said in a statement.

Portantino’s SB 234 goes further. It would require to charter schools, California community colleges and campuses in the California State University and University of California systems, as well as all private colleges and universities, to maintain Narcan supplies. Stadiums, concert venues and amusement parks would also have to comply.

”Where current law makes it optional to use Narcan for emergency purposes, SB 234 will require that it is readily available,” Portantino said in a statement.

Assembly Bill 24, by Assemblyman Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, would extend that same requirement to bars, gas stations, public libraries and single-room occupancy hotels in counties that are experiencing an opioid overdose crisis, as determined by the California Department of Public Health.

Establishing a task force

Fentanyl is a bipartisan issue, and lawmakers both Republican and Democrat have bills to establish a task force to address the problem.

Assemblywoman Jasmeet Bains, D-Delano, has introduced Assembly Bill 33 to create a statewide fentanyl task force “in order to identify and address the fentanyl crisis as part of the opioid epidemic in this state,” according to the legislative digest for the bill.

Sen. Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta, has authored Senate Bill 19, which would create an anti-fentanyl abuse task force, chaired by the Attorney General Rob Bonta or his designee, for “collecting and organizing data on the nature and extent of fentanyl abuse in California and evaluating approaches to increase public awareness of fentanyl abuse,” according to the legislative digest.

Seyarto’s bill further requires the task force to report on its findings by no later than July 1, 2025.