Illinois State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, holds up a box of Narcan during a news conference in Springfield. | Photo: Greg Bishop / The Center Square

(The Center Square) – State lawmakers and advocates are pushing for more awareness and resources, along with harsher penalties for drug dealers, to address the dangers of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

The precursors for the drug have origins in China and have been found to be trafficked across the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

Illinois Department of Health records shows that Illinois had 3,013 fentanyl-related deaths in 2021 alone, an increase of 35.8% from 2019 and nearly three times as many as in 2013.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, and state Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, were joined by community groups at the capitol Thursday to raise awareness about the drug.

“Before there was a pandemic of COVID, there was an epidemic and pandemic of overdoses from heroin and fentanyl across the state,” Ford said.

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“Today, we are here to make sure that we sound the alarm and let everyone know there is help,” Ford said.

Ford spoke about House Bill 110, or the Safer Consumption Services Act, which did not pass earlier this year.

Mayfield said help is there if the state can provide the funding.

“Until we start funding these programs, to give them the support that they need, we will continue to have not just these overdoses that are widely sweeping our nation, but we will continue to have violence in our communities,” Mayfield said.

Ford talked about tens of millions in dollars from settlements with opioid manufacturers and retailers states like Illinois are getting.

“We need to make sure the money is spent and make sure that everyone has access to Narcan, making sure everyone has access to medical treatment services, so they can live a normal life and not die from street drugs,” Ford said.

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Last month, several Republican state senators advocated for stiffer penalties against those who sell fentanyl.

Senate Bill 4221 would enhance penalties for a variety of fentanyl offenses.

Among the proposals are to “create a new Class X felony requiring nine to 40 years in prison for unlawfully selling or dispensing any scheduled drug, like Adderall or Vicodin, that contains a detectable amount of fentanyl.”

“It is our impassioned hope that this will address the overwhelming increase of overdosing and dying from fake pills that are made to look like prescription opioids or stimulants,” state Sen. Sally Turner, R-Beason, said last month.

Ford also suggested strict punishments for those selling the drugs.

“We need to make sure we increase the penalties for cartels and stop the flow of drugs coming into these neighborhoods,” Ford said.

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