“Just Say No” to Fentanyl Penalty Upgrades
Increasing fentanyl penalties will exacerbate the overdose crisis, do nothing to reduce the drug supply or demand, and deepen racial injustice fueled by the War on Drugs. It is time for New Jersey policymakers to “just say no” to the drug war and reject S-3096 and S-3325.
New Jersey has made historic gains expanding access to lifesaving harm reduction and recovery services. We cannot afford to return to counterproductive policies that undermine the efforts of recovery and harm reduction direct service providers who save lives every single day.
FACT: Increased fentanyl penalties will worsen the overdose crisis and criminalize the same people who policymakers say deserve care and compassion.
- Substance use disorder — what many know as “addiction” — is a chronic health condition, and returning or continuing to use is an expected part of someone’s treatment and recovery.
- The penalties in the proposed legislation are for weights of substances so commonly used and carried that they would worsen a dangerous net of criminalization for people living with a substance use disorder.
- Criminalization makes it harder for people to connect to treatment and care, and disincentivizes people from calling 9-1-1 or seeking help.
FACT: Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are in the drug supply because of prohibition policies like the proposed legislation, and these bills will only make the drug supply more dangerous.
- Increased arrests and criminal penalties do not result in lower drug use or fewer sales. Instead, they incentivize new and more potent synthetic drugs that result in more deaths.
- Crackdowns on heroin are why fentanyl is so present in the current drug supply. Now, crackdowns on fentanyl have opened the door to newer, more potent opioid drugs like nitazene and etizolam, endangering people who use drugs.
FACT: Increased fentanyl penalties will fuel racial injustice.
- Black residents are already 3.3 times more likely to be arrested for drug penalties than their white peers, despite white people both using and selling criminalized drugs at higher rates.
- Overdose deaths for Black residents increased over the past year, while they decreased for white residents and in the state overall.
- Research shows that financial security, stable housing, and access to health care all increase the likelihood that someone struggling with drug use will find long-term stability and safety. Increasing criminal penalties does not address the root causes of overdose risks.
FACT: Drug penalties are already highly enforced in New Jersey, without any gains for residents.
- Between 2010-2019, New Jersey spent nearly $11 billion on drug law policing, prosecution, and incarceration. This has done nothing to stop the recent spike in overdose deaths.
- In 2019, New Jersey’s investment in the drug war was 8.5 times greater than what the state budget allocates for addiction services, and 545 times greater than state spending on harm reduction services that are proven to connect people to care and save lives.
The evidence is clear: Harsher penalties like those proposed in S-3096 and S-3325 increase overdose deaths and decrease people’s opportunities to find support, harm reduction, and recovery that works for them.
The opportunity is also clear: New Jersey’s policymakers can set aside failed War on Drugs policies and redouble their efforts to expand a public health approach to drug use.
- The Network for Public Health Law, Tougher Criminal Penalties Won’t End Overdose Deaths
- Drug Policy Alliance, Criminal Justice in the Era of Fentanyl: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
- International Journal of Drug Policy, Today’s Fentanyl Crisis: Prohibition’s Iron Law, Revisited
- New Jersey Policy Perspective, A War on Us: How Much New Jersey Spends Enforcing the War on Drugs
Fact Sheet: “Just Say No” to Fentanyl Penalty Upgrades
Harm reduction is essential. A harm reduction approach to drug use is the best strategy we have to end the overdose crisis, reduce risks associated with drug use, and affirm the dignity and bodily autonomy of every New Jerseyan.