There need to be mandatory minimums for fentanyl

In a 2019 survey, 1 in 5 Idaho students reported being offered, sold or given an illegal drug in the past 30 days. Today, our children are increasingly likely to get offered fentanyl. Illegal fentanyl comes in powder and pill form. Recently, two drug busts on Highway 93 near Twin Falls confiscated 15 pounds of fentanyl. That quantity is enough to kill every man, woman and child in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Fentanyl deaths are rising in Idaho. Fifty times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, this synthetic opioid plays a growing role in drug overdoses, according to The most recent Idaho data shows 353 overdose deaths in 2021 with 152 of those deaths connected to fentanyl. We must stop the trafficking of fentanyl in Idaho.

We need better education for our families, our schools and our communities about the dangers of drugs and the increased risks associated with fentanyl. The Legislature can support those efforts with legislation that adds fentanyl to the list of drug trafficking mandatory minimums. During the last session, this proposed legislation failed. Many of the people who testified against these efforts came from other states and ignored that Idaho’s mandatory minimums have made our state very unattractive for the trafficking of other illegal drugs.

Drug trafficking is a very serious crime. In Idaho Code 3727-39(b), it states, “The Legislature hereby finds and declares that trafficking in controlled substances in the state of Idaho is a primary contributor to a societal problem that causes loss of life, personal injury and theft of property, and exacts a tremendous toll on the citizens of this state.”

Clearly, we’re not a state that welcomes drugs. Fentanyl, the deadliest of the current drugs, must be added to our mandatory minimum code. Some are opposed to mandatory minimums because they take away a judge’s discretion. Opponents claim we’re throwing people in jail just for possession under these laws. However, the proposed drug quantities to qualify as drug trafficking do not come close to being a judgment call. Clear and certain mandatory minimum sentences can deter fentanyl trafficking.

When someone is indicted on trafficking charges, the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. The burden rests with the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the individual is guilty of trafficking, as defined in Idaho Code. A simple possession of illegal drugs does not constitute trafficking. The trafficker must have huge quantities of the drug to qualify for mandatory minimum punishments.

Lives lost to fentanyl overdoses represent the leading cause of death in people 18-45. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to save Idahoans. Our mandatory minimums for other drugs have proved to be a deterrent. We have jail recordings and cell phone messages showing that traffickers do not want to come to Idaho due to our mandatory minimums. Currently, there is no deterrent for fentanyl traffickers in Idaho.

The current punishment available for this deadly street drug comes nowhere close to accounting for the social costs to Idaho. Education is vital, but so are deterrents to the traffickers. This coming January, we have an opportunity as a Legislature to help the rising fentanyl problem right here in Idaho.

I encourage you to call or email your Idaho legislators. Please let them know if you support adopting mandatory minimums for fentanyl. Together we can fight the scourge of fentanyl.

Rep. Chenele Dixon represents District 24 (Camas, Gooding and Twin Falls counties). She is a member of the Main Street Idaho Caucus.