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A federal agency that recommends sentencing guidelines to judges will weigh a new plan to lengthen prison terms for people caught selling fentanyl, a synthetic opioid responsible for 20,000 overdose deaths in 2016.
The drug has united drug users, public health workers, and law enforcement officials alike in fear over the drug’s potency — it’s often mixed with fillers or other drugs, such as heroin or black-market pills, in doses too small to gauge reliably and killing users. Citing fentanyl’s destructiveness, the United States Sentencing Commission is holding its first hearing Wednesday on a new proposal that recommends, among other changes, that first-time offenders who sell a half-ounce of fentanyl be sentenced to up to five years in prison — more than double the current top recommended term.
The Justice Department supports the proposal and contends this crackdown is necessary because small amounts of fentanyl could put thousands of lethal doses on the street.”