House Bill 215 (HB 215) is a bill that significantly increases the minimum sentence to be served for anyone convicted of fentanyl trafficking in Kentucky. This measure was likely brought about as a result of increased drug overdoses in Kentucky.
In 2020, there were 1,964 fatal drug overdoses in Kentucky. Of those deaths, fentanyl was found in 71% of cases. Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, specifically heroin. Mixing the two makes them significantly more potent and deadly.
Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020. The new data show overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021. Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl), psychostimulants such as methamphetamine, and cocaine also continued to increase in 2021 compared to 2020. Deaths from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, rose to 71,238 in 2021 from 57,834 in 2020.
This bill would increase incarceration time for fentanyl convictions. Those convicted of Fentanyl trafficking in Kentucky (and those convicted of trafficking carfentanil and fentanyl-derivative drugs) would get an increase in jail time of 50% to 85% over current guidelines. This change would also increase the mandatory minimums and would remove the courts’ option to order less time for those convicted.
In addition, HB 215 creates a prohibition against using pretrial diversion for convictions under these statutes. For more information, you can read the full text of HB 215.
Opponents of the bill claim that increasing the minimum sentences served won’t address the underlying problems related to drug abuse. They claim it fails to interrupt major drug distribution or high-level traffickers, and really only impacts low-level drug users. Opponents also point to the increased expense, for the taxpayer, as a result of longer sentences.