Legislators passed several laws during this year’s session to crack down on the dealing of fentanyl in an effort to save lives. Mississippi Representative Jill Ford, who represents Madison, aided in getting some of these bills passed.
One such bill creates a crime of “fentanyl delivery resulting in death.” This bill is called House Bill 607 Parker’s Law – named after Cordie Rodenbaugh’s son, Parker. Though the drug that killed Parker was not fentanyl, the name was kept to honor Parker and his mother for all the work she did to advocate for victims and raise awareness about the dangers of drugs even after the bill was changed to just apply to fentanyl overdoses.
The bill reads in section two: A person who delivers or causes the delivery of fentanyl with knowledge of the fentanyl commits the crime of “fentanyl delivery resulting in death” when as a result of the unlawful delivery of fentanyl in exchange for anything of value to another person, death to a person results from the proximate cause of injection, oral ingestion or inhalation of fentanyl. Upon conviction for violating the provisions of this section, the person shall be sentenced to imprisonment no less than 20 years to a term of life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
The bill goes into effect on July 1.
Ford said she didn’t get why a drug dealer would want to kill their clientele because they are their source of income, but what she found out was it is caused by an error when the dealers are manufacturing the pills.
“They try to put a milligram of fentanyl in the pills that they are making when they press them,” Ford said. “One milligram is what they are trying to put in them but two milligrams of fentanyl will kill the average adult. They are accidentally putting too much in it.”
Ford said the dealers are pressing their own pills and making them to look like percocet pills, such as oxycodone, and mix in fentanyl to help their pills stand out.
“They put one milligram of fentanyl to give those that are taking it more of a euphoric feeling and their thought be ‘I really like how that drug dealer’s pills make me feel’,” Ford said. “This is the thing that seriously struck me hard: (the equivalent of) one little packet of Splenda can kill 500 people. That is why it is so easy to smuggle in. They are using it to make pills that are giving the people this euphoric feeling but, when you put a little too much in it, it kills them.”
These pill presses, or tableting machines, are the subject of a separate bill: House Bill 679, which prohibits any person from unauthorized possession and transfer of pill presses and similar devices and requires the devices be registered with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics if the pill press is not authorized by the Board of Pharmacy or another lawful entity.
“We are about to come down hard on the pill presses,” Ford said. “To me, that is huge because now we have the opportunity to catch them pressing the pills.”
Some people may use pill presses to create herbal medicines, and Ford said everyone needs to register those devices to not be in violation of the law.
“People are dying, and some are thinking about how inconvenient it is going to be to have to pick up the phone and register their pill press,” Ford said. “But that is what we are going to have to do. If you have a pill press, you will need to register.”
Another action made by legislation to save lives in the fight against fentanyl is to legalize drug testing strips that can detect the drug. They were previously illegal in the state of Mississippi as they were considered drug paraphernalia.
“Now, we’ve changed that,” Ford said. “It is not against the law anymore. So, if you are a drug user and you get caught with a testing strip, it’s not going to be against the law anymore. Test your drugs is basically what I want to say, but then again I don’t. I don’t want to encourage people to do drugs, so that is a catch 22.”
While these were bills passed this year to help save lives, there are two things Ford said are important to saving lives: awareness and parent’s help.
“It is unfortunate that the typical response of a parent is embarrassment,” Ford said. “They don’t want the public to view their child badly for using, but so many aren’t heavy drug users. Most are in their 20s and 30s. They are professionals. They have good jobs and great families, but they just get involved with taking a pill that looks real but it’s counterfeit. I’d love to encourage any parents that might find themselves in this horrible situation in the future to be 100 percent on board with law enforcement by giving them immediate access to their child’s phone.”
Drug Dealer Carlos Dominique Allen was sentenced to 124 years in prison in March after he was identified as the individual to deal counterfeit pills containing fentanyl to Austin Elliott who died as a result. He knew they were killing people and had texted that the pills had people “flopping.”
“That is horrible,” Ford said. “He knew it. Text messages are what got him in prison over 100 years (in prison). The text messages are what Madison County law enforcement were able to use to pin Carlos to murder.”
Ford said Elliot’s parents’ willingness to help law enforcement was what made this possible.
“I want to encourage the parents – you never know (if it could be your child),” Ford said. “It is just one little pill. One pill can kill. If their doctor is not prescribing it and they’re not buying it from a local pharmacy, the chances of it happening are very great.”
The second thing – awareness – Ford said is huge.
“We have got to make people aware that these things are out there and it kills,” Ford said. “It is going to kill them. It comes in white power, nasal mist, and pills. Right now, Madison is seeing almost exclusively this little blue pill made to look like oxycodone with ‘M30’ imprinted on it. The dealer or the maker in this area has the pill press of M30.”
Ford said people know that there is a fentanyl issue but aren’t truly aware of just how dangerous it is.
“If someone wanted to wipe out the state of Mississippi, it would only take a couple handfuls (of fentanyl),” Ford said. “That is mindblowing. In Tennessee, on I-40 a few months ago, a woman was caught carrying enough fentanyl to kill 2.5 million people. That is basically the state of Mississippi. We have to do something to make the drug dealers scared to come into the state of Mississippi and sell it. Guns don’t scare me anymore. Fentanyl scares me to death.”
She said this is a threat to Mississippi’s children.
“I have six grandbabies and I’ve had family members in prison for drug abuse and I am passionate about protecting our children,” Ford said. “This is something that is killing our kids and I heard also that, for ages 18-25, fentanyl is the number one cause of death.”
As far as what is next, she said Parker’s Law was just the first step.
“I think we have some room to grow and make it even more strict in the future,” Ford said. “It is a good start, but I think we can come back next year and hopefully improve on it.”