You are here

AG Column: Generally Speaking - February 2024

Oklahoma is in the throes of an epidemic, and it is called fentanyl.

A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is as addictive as it is deadly. It is 50 times stronger than heroin, cheap to produce – and destroying families. Six years ago, Oklahoma suffered 50 fentanyl-related deaths. By 2022, that number had skyrocketed to 619, accounting for the vast majority of fatal opioid overdoes in the state. While final figures for this past year are not yet known, we do know there were 317 fentanyl deaths in the first five months of 2023 alone. Moreover, fentanyl is an equal-opportunity killer, impacting communities of every kind.

With the second session of the 59th Oklahoma Legislature underway, lawmakers are considering myriad bills to help address the needs facing our state. Among the most important, I believe, relates to the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. Senate Bill 1280, which seeks to modify elements of several felony offenses, is designed to address Oklahoma’s fentanyl crisis.

Authored by Sen. Darrell Weaver, SB 1280 gives prosecutors the ability to hold accountable those who are fueling the fentanyl crisis. Specifically, the measure adds language defining lacing drugs with fentanyl as manufacturing. It also classifies the unlawful manufacturing of set amounts of controlled dangerous substances, including fentanyl, as aggravated manufacturing. Classifying this crime as manufacturing moves the criminal liability from the street dealer or fentanyl user up the chain to the drug kingpins peddling this poison to Oklahomans.

As my Organized Crime Task Force finds and shuts down illegal marijuana grow operations across the state, agents are finding that fentanyl is being distributed along with black-market marijuana. In fact, the prevalence of illegal marijuana being harvested in our state means that the contraband of choice along the nation’s southwest border is now fentanyl. The border crisis is very real and it is having catastrophic consequences on public safety in Oklahoma.

Part of the problem is that fentanyl is obscenely lucrative for drug cartels. One gram, roughly the weight of a single Sweet & Low packet, can produce 500 pills at a cost of about 10 cents. On the street, each pill sells for between $10 and $20. As a result, fentanyl is often added to other illegal narcotics to make them more affordable and powerful.

The Senate Public Safety Committee recently passed SB 1280, which means it will now go to the full Senate for a vote. 

I appreciate the work of our state lawmakers to enhance public safety in our state and to ensure our law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have the tools they need to protect Oklahomans.