In light of increased local and national concern over deaths caused by opioids and fentanyl, in particular, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is pushing the state’s Sentencing Commission for harsher guidelines for opioid offenses. The PDAA urged the changes less than two months after a kilogram of fentanyl was seized in Montgomery County. According to the PDAA president’s testimony before the commission, this amount is enough to kill almost half a million people.
The problem surrounding opioids in particular is one of addiction. They are highly addictive and the people that seek them out often started using opioids for a medical reason. Opioid withdrawal can be life-threatening, making it difficult for people to stop using.
When faced with drug charges, individuals who are addicted to fentanyl or other opioids are often lumped in with the folks who are dealing it illegally on the streets. The PDAA’s recommendations show sympathy for the former but fail differentiate them from the latter in their proposal. This means that a college athlete with medically-diagnosed pain, who got hooked on opioids by prescription, and is feeding his addiction would be lumped into the same general category as someone who sells him an illegal dose on the street. This does not account for the why of the addiction or the medical failure it represents.
Fortunately, mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related cases are considered unconstitutional in Pennsylvania. This means that a court may start with the sentencing guidelines – even harsher new ones for fentanyl – but with sufficient reason can order a sentence below the guidelines’ threshold. This is known as a “downward departure.” The assistance of a seasoned defense attorney can help to ensure that an individual facing drug charges does not receive an unfair sentence, regardless of the guidelines.
Source: InJusticeToday.com, “Amid opioid crisis, Pennsylvania district attorneys advocate for war on drugs,” Zachary A. Siegel, Dec. 20, 2017