What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a manufactured synthetic opioid. It’s manufactured around the world. Originally, fentanyl was distributed under the trade name Sublimaze. Today, it’s dispensed as Actiq ®, Duragesic ®, and Fenora®. It’s sometimes used instead of morphine to control pain in chronic illnesses, e.g. cancer.
Fentanyl is sometimes used in surgical procedures as an anesthetic. It’s also used by veterinary doctors to immobilize large animals.
Legitimate uses of fentanyl may include controlled dosage through a skin patch. It may be ingested as tablets or lozenges. Less frequently, it is available in injectable form.
Because fentanyl is so dangerous, and serious abuse is possible, it is a Schedule II controlled substance.
According to the DEA, most fentanyl is illegally sold in the United States. It’s frequently stolen or sold by patients with a prescription or via forged prescriptions.
Federal and Texas Authorities Step Up Fentanyl Prosecutions
Texas state and federal law enforcement authorities are stepping up and actively prosecuting criminal activities that involve fentanyl and other synthetic opioid drugs. For example, a drug overdose death may be viewed as a homicide.
When large quantities of fentanyl are sized, prosecutors may charge foreign nationals and others with significant crimes. Mexican and Chinese cartels are responsible for mixing fentanyl with cocaine and/or heroin, or pressing various fentanyl mixtures into counterfeit prescription capsules and pills.
Fentanyl is directly attributed to a large spike in overdose deaths. In 2016, more than 42,000 people died from overdosing on fentanyl. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just a small amount of fentanyl can be fatal. Fentanyl overdoses were responsible for the drug deaths of more Americans than any other drug, according to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. As a result, the Department of Justice (DOJ) stepped up its prosecutions of fentanyl-related crimes over 300 percent in 2017.
DOJ vigilance and a greater supply of fentanyl prompted the increases in fentanyl and related drug prosecutions. In 2017, federal prosecutors brought charges against almost 300 people in fentanyl-related crimes compared to just 74 cases in 2016.
Fentanyl Cases in the News
Several Houstonians were arrested for possession of more than 48 ounces of fentanyl in Ohio. Authorities said there was enough fentanyl to “kill everyone in Toledo.” The trio was charged with federal possession, with the intent to distribute a controlled substance in 2018.
The accused individuals allegedly attempted to mail a kilo of fentanyl to another party through the U.S. mail. It was wrapped in sealed plastic baggies.
Two Texas men face charges of transporting at least 10 kilograms in one-kilogram bags of the synthetic opioid drug, fentanyl. They were arrested on a traffic stop by a state police trooper in Shreveport, Louisiana and face charges of possession with the intent to distribute the drug.
Two men in New Jersey were arrested by federal authorities with possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute when state troopers found at least 118 pounds of fentanyl in a Nebraska traffic stop. Law enforcement agents initially thought the men were transporting cocaine.
In another arrest in January 2018, law enforcement agents in Mexico stopped the driver of an SUV because the vehicle was missing a front license plate. During the stop, agents of the National Security Commission identified at least 100 pounds of fentanyl in the vehicle.
Legislators in many states have worked to sign tougher anti-fentanyl laws into place. Fentanyl suppliers may face murder or manslaughter charges for providing a fatal dose to another user. Drug overdose deaths may be treated like homicide.
Drug paraphernalia or text messages found on the seller’s or user’s phone may be entered into evidence. However, many critics of such drug-induced homicide statutes believe they’re too tough. They argue that prosecutors tend to go after lower-level pushers of heroin instead of the larger dealers involved in distribution. They also argue that many of these laws don’t work because they don’t deter drug sales.
Fentanyl Risk to the General Public in Harris County
Recently, a Harris County Sheriff’s Office sergeant touched a flyer from TargetedJustice.com, a conspiracy theory website, treated with fentanyl. The flyers were placed on windshields of vehicles belonging to the department. After the sergeant removed the flyer from the vehicle, she soon felt ill. She drove to a nearby hospital and was soon released.
In a press conference, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez expressed concerns that the flyers might have been used to target deputies. Contact with fentanyl through the skin or mucous membranes can cause serious illness or death.
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State of Texas: Tough on Fentanyl Crimes
Governor Rick Perry advocated more progressive drug laws for the state of Texas, including:
- The Texas Controlled Substances Act. Drugs are divided into four categories called penalty groups.
- Group One includes cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone, PCP, GHB, hydrocodone, Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam), methadone, and other opiates and/or opioid derivatives.
- Punishments for possessing fentanyl and other Class 1 drugs depends whether it was stored or concealed, distributed, possessed and/or whether the accused has any prior drug convictions. The offender faces more significant penalties (typically doubled) if he or she possesses or distributes in drug-free (school) zones.
- Penalties for possessing or distributing Group One drugs are the harshest.
- Penalties for the Manufacture and/or Delivery of Group One drugs include: 1) State jail felony when the offender possesses less than one gram of a Class One drug; 2) Second-degree felony when the offender possesses more than a gram but less than four grams of a Class One drug; 3) First-degree felony if the offender possesses greater than four grams but less than 200 grams; and 4) Life or 10-99 years in a Texas prison if the offender possesses more than 200 grams but less than 400 grams of a Class One drug.
Fentanyl Conviction Federal Penalties
A federal sentence may apply to those who distribute, or possess with intent to distribute, any mixture that contains Fentanyl. A conspiracy to distribute the drug may initially depend on whether the fentanyl was distributed or possessed, or is “pure” fentanyl, or is an analog of the drug. What are the possible off-label uses of Gabapentin? GabapentinOral.com says that it can treat different emotional states. Is it true? How long the therapy should last? And what is the right dose? I know that I should ask my doctor but I guess nobody knows better than the one, who tried it himself. Share your experiences, please.
The weight of the substance or mixture containing fentanyl is considered in sentencing the offender. In addition, the court considers if the defendant has previous drug convictions in Texas or under federal law and whether death or serious injury resulted from the distributed drug’s use. An offense that involves larger amounts of fentanyl requires the court to impose the mandatory minimum sentence:
- In a case involving less than 40 grams in which no injury occurred, the offender faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence as a first offense. He or she faces a maximum 30-year prison sentence for subsequent offenses.
- In a case involving less than 40 grams in which death or serious injury results, the offender faces a minimum 20-year to life prison sentence. He or she faces a life prison sentence for subsequent offenses
- In a case involving a minimum of 40 grams, and less than 400 grams of fentanyl in which no injury occurred, the offender faces a five-year minimum to 40-year maximum prison sentence on a first offense. For subsequent offenses, he or she faces a minimum 10-year prison sentence and a maximum life in prison sentence.
- In a case involving a minimum of 40 grams, and less than 400 grams of fentanyl in which a serious injury or death occurred, the offender faces a minimum 20-year prison term to a maximum life in prison sentence for a first offense. For subsequent offenses, he or she faces at least 20 years in prison up to a maximum sentence of life in prison.
- In a case involving at least 400 grams of fentanyl in which no injury occurred, the offender faces a minimum 10-year prison term up to life in prison. For a subsequent offense, he or she faces at least 20 years in prison up to the maximum of life in prison.
- In a case involving 400 grams of fentanyl that resulted in death or injury, the offender faces at least 20 years in prison up to life behind bars. For subsequent offenses, he or she faces the maximum penalty of life in prison.
Possible Mitigating Factors in a Fentanyl Charge in Texas
Maximum penalties may substantially increase, or different minimum penalties for fentanyl crimes may apply if 1) the offender distributed fentanyl to an individual less than 21 years old, 2) the offender distributed fentanyl to a pregnant woman, 3) the offender employed minor individuals to assist him or her in committing the offense or 4) the offender distributed fentanyl within or close to a protected area, such as a school.
Simple Possession of Fentanyl in Texas
When an individual possesses fentanyl for his or her personal use and doesn’t intend to distribute or sell the drug to others, the court may consider a sentence for simple possession of the drug. The court will consider whether the offender has past convictions for drug offenses under Texas and federal law.
In a first offense case in Texas, the offender faces up to a year in jail. On a second offense, he or she faces a minimum 15-day jail sentence up to a maximum two-year sentence. On a subsequent offense, he or she faces a minimum 90-day jail term up to a maximum three-year jail sentence.
Contact an Experienced Houston Drug Attorney
If you or a loved one is facing an arrest or prosecution for a fentanyl drug crime, contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227-0087 to request an initial case evaluation now.