Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is used by doctors to treat severe, advanced cancer pain.

It is also being used by drug dealers and cartels to boost the highs users get from heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and every other substance you can think of, and it’s causing a dramatic rise in opioid overdose deaths in New Jersey and across the nation.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, is pushing a plan to crack down on the vast amount of fentanyl pouring into the Garden State.

“A lot of these drug dealers are lacing marijuana and other drugs with fentanyl, so the user doesn’t realize it but they’re getting fentanyl, I want to make it a first-degree crime, this is not like selling marijuana to somebody,” he said.

A serious crackdown

Sarlo is sponsoring legislation (no bill number yet) that would make it a first-degree crime to sell, possess or manufacture more than 10 grams of fentanyl, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,00.

His measure also stipulates selling or possessing any amount of fentanyl up to 10 grams would be a second-degree crime, which carries 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.

Man in prison hands of behind hold Steel cage jail bars. offender criminal locked in jail.
Rattankun Thongbun

He said this may sound harsh but “it is such a volatile and lethal drug, those who inject or inhale fentanyl run the risk of immediate death.”

Fentanyl is dangerous even to touch because it can be absorbed by the skin.

“It’s very lethal, this is not about drug addiction, this is about killing somebody, no different than pulling out a gun and shooting somebody,” he said.

Susan Gibson, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency in New Jersey, has warned Garden State residents that as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl mixed into a drug can literally kill you in seconds.

She said the DEA has now started investigating drug overdose deaths, and if they were caused by ingesting fentanyl, the case will be treated not as accidental but as a homicide.

“Those who push fentanyl on the street, it’s almost like a license to literally kill,” Sarlo said.

He said the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office recently arrested a man who was in possession of 15 pounds of fentanyl, enough to produce an estimated 3.5 million deadly doses.

More than 3,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021 in New Jersey, according to the State Medical Examiner, and law enforcement officials have warned the total could climb even higher this year.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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