Some Southern California prosecutors are stepping up charges against those who sell deadly, fentanyl-laced illegal drugs.
The Orange County Register reports that District Attorney Todd Spitzer plans to issue an admonishment in plea deals warning that a dealer found to be involved in another fentanyl sale that results in death could be charged with murder.
Nearby Riverside and San Bernardino counties have charged alleged dealers with murder, and so have San Luis Obispo and Contra Costa counties, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.
“It is a ruse, people are buying Oxycontin and it turns out to be fentanyl,” Spitzer told the newspaper. “It’s like they’re handing you a loaded gun and you don’t know it’s loaded.”
Spitzer has called a press conference for Tuesday to discuss the plan for the county of 3 million people.
The move comes as drug-related deaths are expected to hit a record of 100,000 this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal prosecutors have charged suspected fentanyl dealers with murder but it's not as easy to do under state law. Some California lawmakers have proposed bills to treat fentanyl as a more threatening drug and to warn those convicted of dealing that they could face murder charges for similar such actions that result in death, but those proposals didn't become law.
In Orange County, Public Defender Martin Schwarz said issuing an advisement lacks legal standing unlike a state-mandated process that exists in cases for driving under the influence.
In Los Angeles County, which is home to a quarter of California’s 40 million people, no plans to stiffen charges against suspected dealers have been announced.
In the Riverside County city of Temecula, Matt CapeIouto, whose 20-year-old daughter Alexandra died after taking what she thought was oxycodone, wants to see change. He said he and his wife found their daughter dead in her bedroom after she went online to look for something to ease depression.
“It was ruled an accidental, noncriminal overdose — but that’s outdated,” CapeIouto said. "That’s not correct. My daughter was poisoned.”
Amy Neville, whose 14-year-old son Alexander died after taking what he thought was Oxycontin, said she doesn't think the admonishment is enough, but it's a start.
“Fentanyl will still be here, drug dealers will still be selling,” she said. "When one is arrested, there’s always another one to take their place. But in the end, with the admonishment, at least that dealer is on the hook for future drug dealing.”