Two Republican lawmakers seek to increase fentanyl possession penalties, which some opponents say is wrong move

Stronger, more addictive and cheaper to manufacture than many other drugs, the synthetic opioid fentanyl has ravaged the country in recent years — becoming one of leading causes of death among adults ages 18 to 45.

New Mexico is no exception.

The rate of fentanyl overdose deaths in the state has increased nearly sevenfold since 2016, according to state Department of Health data, jumping from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 to 16 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. The drug has caused the death of nearly 600 people in New Mexico since 2016.

Trafficking and overdose cases involving fentanyl “are surpassing all other drugs combined,” in the First Judicial District, chief Deputy District Attorney Anthony Long said in an interview Friday.

“Fentanyl is the main drug we keep coming across,” agreed Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza. “It’s here. It’s on the rise, and with that comes a lot of consequences.”

But while authorities agree fentanyl is a scourge, what’s less clear is the best way to curb the problem.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, is offering one potential solution. He’s introduced a bill in the Legislature that would increase penalties for fentanyl possession.

House Bill 60 — co-sponsored by Reps. Randall T. Pettigrew, R-Lovington and Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park — would add three, five and seven years to the sentences of people convicted of possession of fentanyl, depending on how much of the drug the person had at the time of their arrest.

The three-year pe