COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Lawmakers have been looking at ways to get a handle on the opioid epidemic in Ohio for over a year now, and several pieces of legislation have been put forward attempting to do just that.
Two recent bills to be introduced take different approaches to accomplishing similar goals.
State Representative Scott Wiggam’s bill seeks to deter the trafficking of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl by making the activity a third-degree felony with mandatory prison time.
The bill is in direct competition with Senate Bill 1, which is one of the Senate GOP Caucus’ top 10 priority bills which could pass out of committee Tuesday.
Wiggam says if trafficking penalties were stiffer, fewer people would actually risk trafficking in the first place.
There was some concern raised that making the prison sentence mandatory would increase the jail population in Ohio.
Wiggam says that may happen initially, but he expects it to drop off again significantly when people realize that it isn’t worth going to jail on a trafficking charge.
State Representative Niraj Antani is looking to deter in another way. He wants to prevent addicts from getting their hands on the drugs if they have fallen off the wagon.
Under Antani’s bill, if an addict on probation or parole tests positive for heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl and their original conviction was for the same substance, they would immediately be enrolled with a treatment facility or taken to county jail for up to 30 days.
They would not get to go home, as is potentially the case currently.
Antani’s bill was created after a constituent tested positive for one of the drugs, was allowed to leave after the failed test, and then overdosed on the drug and died four hours later.
The lawmaker says, when an addict tests positive for the drugs, the safest place for them is behind bars where they cannot get access to deadly narcotics.
Antani would prefer if they were enrolled in a treatment program, but he is a realist.
He says more treatment and detox facilities need to be built, but they cannot be built overnight. In the meantime, he says, this is a viable option for making sure that the people struggling with addiction do not harm themselves.
However, some lawmakers were concerned that Antani’s bill would remove addict’s rights by sending them straight to jail without an opportunity to appeal.
Both bills have just been introduced into the House and are beginning their legislative journey. Both lawmakers say they are open to making adjustments to them to address the concerns that have been raised by their fellow legislators.