Virginia House and Senate lawmakers approved bills Friday that would designate substances containing any detection of the deadly drug fentanyl as a “weapon of terrorism.”
The classification, approved via Senate Bill 1188 and House Bill 1682, would dock anyone intentionally manufacturing or distributing fentanyl with a Class 4 felony, a charge that could tack on an additional a 10-year prison sentence on top of preexisting felony drug distribution charges.
The bill’s legal ramifications would not apply to users of the drug.
Sponsored by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and Delegate Scott Wyatt, R-Hanover, the measure now heads to the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The governor previously pushed a separate bill — shot down by the Senate — that would have subjected fentanyl manufacturers or dealers to second-degree murder charges, with prison sentences of up to 40 years.
A January 2023 report by the Virginia Department of Health listed fatal overdoses as the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the state since 2013.
During that time, illicit fentanyl has remained “the driving force behind the large increases in fatal overdoses,” the report said. In 2021, fentanyl was listed as the primary cause or a contributor in 76.4 percent of all fatal overdoses in the commonwealth.
“This has affected more families than you’ll ever imagine,” Reeves said at a committee hearing last month, according to The Center Square. “I’m tired of seeing people die.”
Reeves shared at the January meeting that his daughter’s fiancé is among those who died as the result of a fentanyl overdose.
Fentanyl has been a concern among Northern Virginia school systems. In Arlington earlier this month, a Wakefield High School student died two days after an apparent overdose in the school’s bathroom on January 31. Four other students were evaluated on the scene.
In December, Prince William County police responded to three overdoses involving teens. One died in December. The overdoses involved counterfeit prescription drugs laced with fentanyl, prompting police to issue a warning about the counterfeit form of Percocet. Earlier in the year, two Prince William County teens died in a similar manner.
For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine’s News newsletter.