Governor’s bill would make deadly opioid deals manslaughter

BOSTON (AP) – Dealing dangerous drugs that lead to another person’s death would be considered manslaughter and be punishable by at least five years in prison, under legislation filed Wednesday by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the state’s continuing opioid abuse epidemic.

The proposed change in Massachusetts law, one of several unveiled by the Republican governor during a visit to a treatment and recovery center in South Boston, would match an existing statute for people who cause a death while driving drunk.

Another bill would allow the state to quickly follow the lead of the federal government in classifying new and potentially dangerous illegal drugs that emerge on the street.

The proposals, Baker said, “will give prosecutors and public safety officers the ability to better respond to new drugs coming into our communities, and to hold accountable drug dealers who put profits over the lives of other people.”

The state Department of Public Health reported that the synthetic drug fentanyl was present in 81 percent of opioid-related deaths in the first three months of 2017, up from only 19 percent three years ago.

Earlier this year, state police reported the synthetic opioid carfentanil – 100 times stronger than fentanyl and sometimes used as an elephant tranquilizer – had been identified for the first time in Massachusetts in drug samples tested from Brockton and Quincy.

While the Baker administration previously focused efforts toward prevention and treatment, the legislative package announced Wednesday concentrates squarely on law enforcement’s role in stemming the addiction crisis that has claimed thousands of lives in recent years.

Two other bills filed by Baker, while not directly related to illegal drugs, target gang activity often associated with narcotics distribution.

One proposal calls for strengthening the state’s witness protection law to better shield from harm people who help police identify or prosecute criminals. Another seeks to close a loophole in state law and treat solicitation of murder – the attempt to hire someone to commit a murder – as a felony punishable by up to 20 years behind bars.

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