Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Give Life In Prison, Death Penalty for Dealers of Heroin-Laced Fentanyl

By Keri Blakinger 09/30/16

The congressman says the proposed bill would target "the worst of the worst… these are not the users.” 

Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Give Life In Prison, Death Penalty for Dealers of Heroin-Laced Fentanyl
New York Congressman Tom Reed Photo via YouTube

A congressman from upstate New York introduced federal legislation to allow using the death penalty for drug dealers. 

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed—a Republican with Tea Party roots—issued a release Monday touting his Help Ensure Lives are Protected (HELP) Act. Despite decades of evidence that draconian drug policies don’t work, the former Corning mayor wants to make capital punishment an option for dealers who sell addicts a fatal dose. 

“We care about the families of every overdose victim in our community and the addicts that are struggling,” Reed said in the release. “It’s only right that we hold those responsible for harming our loved ones accountable.”

The HELP Act would give federal prosecutors the ability to impose harsher penalties—including life in prison or the death penalty—for dealers accused of selling fatal doses of heroin laced with fentanyl. 

“This was a result of our roundtable discussions with law enforcement, parents, victims as well as treatment providers and others,” Reed said Monday, according to the Corning Leader. The measure would target the “worst of the worst.”  

“These are not the users,” he claimed. "These are the dealers that utilize heroin cut with fentanyl, which is highly addictive and an extremely dangerous material that leads to the deaths of individuals even on a first time use.”

The bill boasts a slew of conservative co-sponsors, including Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Bill Flores (R-Texas), and Steve Chabot, (R-Ohio).

It’s also garnered support from other Southern Tier Republicans, including New York State Senator Tom O’Mara.

"I support Congressman Reed's effort to take it even further for dealers who knowingly sell the deadliest, fentanyl-laced heroin," O’Mara said in a statement, according to the Corning paper. "I agree that we can't arrest and prosecute our way out of it, but we shouldn't hesitate to throw the book at the suppliers and traffickers who are taking so many young lives."

Reed’s approach to drug policy stands in stark contrast to the forward-thinking plans touted by leaders in one small town at the far eastern end of the largely conservative district. In Ithaca—a college town known for its liberal politics and beautiful gorges—Mayor Svante Myrick headed up a heroin task force that ultimately recommended the creation of safe injection sites, which are still technically illegal in the U.S.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.