Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Murkowski re-introduces Bruce's Law to address fentanyl crisis

Sen. Lisa Murkowski re-introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate last week in an effort to bolster federal response and prevention measures to a national fentanyl crisis that has hit Alaska particularly hard.


The proposed legislation, Bruce’s Law, originated from a grassroots effort launched by Anchorage resident Sandy Snodgrass following the death of her 22-year-old son, Robert “Bruce” Snodgrass, in October 2021 due to fentanyl poisoning.


Snodgrass, who launched the nonprofit group AK Fentanyl Response, has testified before Alaska legislative committees and told media that her son had been on the path to recovery but had a relapse. Bruce had received an illicit substance from an old contact but did not know it contained fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be fatal in even small doses.


“The fentanyl crisis continues to intensify, with alarming increases in the number of poisonings and deaths in Alaska and across the country — particularly among unsuspecting young people,” Murkowski said in a news release. “Those deaths cause heartbreak and devastation for families and communities, but many could be prevented through better education and awareness.”


Fentanyl is an FDA-approved drug used in hospitals as an analgesic and anesthetic following major surgery or while being treated for cancer.


According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, illegal drug manufacturers in the last several years have started lacing other drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine with fentanyl. Some manufacturers have created counterfeit pills that look like prescription medicine such as Percocet.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. About two milligrams can trigger a potential fatal overdose.


Alaska alone has seen a spike in fentanyl-connected overdose deaths. According to the Alaska Department of Health, there were 245 drug overdose deaths in 2021; six in 10 overdose deaths in 2021 were caused by fentanyl. Anchorage had the highest rate at 109 deaths, followed by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at 22 deaths.


In January, the Alaska Department of Public Safety released its annual drug report, which highlighted the seizure of more than 26 kilograms of illicit fentanyl, “which is enough for approximately 13.425 million potentially fatal doses.”


The state health department, along with Alaska Department of Public Safety and several nonprofits, have launched outreach and preventive measures to combat fentanyl use in Alaska. Several law enforcement and emergency medical teams now carry naloxone overdose reversal kits to reduce the potential risk of overdose deaths before transporting a victim to a medical facility.


“Many Alaskans have helped shape this bill, and I especially thank Bruce’s mom, Sandy, for her relentless advocacy,” Murkowksi said. “I’m looking forward to getting this bipartisan effort over the finish line.”


Bruce’s Law is being co-sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California). Sens. Dan Sullivan, Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) are original co-sponsors.


Sullivan levied blame for the increased supply on porous borders with Mexico and the main source from China. The DEA has cited China as the source of fentanyl and Mexico as the manufacturing hub for drugs.


“Alaska has the sad distinction of the highest rate of overdose deaths per capita of any place in the country,” Sullivan said. “Our state and our country are facing a five-alarm crisis that is devastating younger generations.”


Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced legislation for this year that would also revamp sentence times for drug manufacturers who sell illegal drugs that result in a fatal overdose. The legislation, if passed, would elevate the possibility for charges from manslaughter to second-degree murder and a possible sentence up to 99 years.


Several lawmakers, along with nonprofits, have voiced concerns about the legislation, including the possiblity that it would cause more harm than good to lower-level drug users who might provide friends with illicit drugs for personal use.


Snodgrass herself testified before a few committees expressing her desire to such new measures levied against large-scale drug distributors and manufacturers.


Speaking on the Senate floor last week, Snodgrass said her hope for Bruce’s Law was “raising awareness and providing education to as many Americans as we can reach [on the dangers of fentanly], as quickly as we can reach them.”

By:  Staff Report
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner