New Tarrant County Narcotics Unit to seek 'stiffest sentences' for fentanyl makers, dealers
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office will target fentanyl dealers with a new Narcotics Unit, a three-person team designed to go after “the stiffest sentences and fines possible” for big drug makers and distributors, the DA’s office announced Monday.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, which is the most common type of drug involved in overdoses nationwide. Other drugs are often laced with fentanyl, or it’s included in counterfeit pills, leading to accidental poisonings, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
"Even seasoned drug users will take it and then they'll overdose very quickly,” Assistant Tarrant County District Attorney Michael Ferry said. “It's overwhelming EMS, fire, and it's causing all sorts of problems for a lot of people."
Ferry is a member of the new Narcotics Unit, whose sole focus is large-scale narcotics distribution cases. Those could involve people responsible for moving large amounts of drugs, or someone causing outsize problems in their city, he said.
More than 2,160 Texans died from fentanyl poisoning in 2022, up from 891 in 2020 and 1,645 in 2021, according to preliminary state data. In Tarrant County, fentanyl overdoses make up the majority of the county’s nearly 2,500 overdoses this year, WFAA reported in early October.
Tarrant County’s new Narcotics Unit plans to take advantage of a new Texas law, written by State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, that allows prosecutors to seek murder charges against people who give someone else a fatal dose of fentanyl. At least 25 other states have similar drug-induced homicide laws.
The Tarrant County Narcotics Unit won’t use the law in every case, Ferry said.
"If you're talking about a boyfriend giving a pill to a girlfriend, that's probably not a case that's appropriate for the murder charge,” he said.
In other states, that person is usually the target of drug-induced homicide laws, Miriam Krinsky said. She’s a former federal prosecutor and the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a network of elected prosecutors who work towards criminal justice reform, and she's against drug-induced homicide laws.
"These laws are rarely used against high-level kingpins or large-scale sellers. They’re more commonly used against drug users, who are simply using drugs with friends or loved ones,” she said.
There is no empirical evidence that increased prosecution reduces supply of and demand for drugs, Fair and Just Prosecution argued in a report about drug-induced homicide laws.
Governments need to tackle the nation's drug problem like a public health issue, Krinsky said.
“This cycling of people through our prisons and jails, it’s done nothing to address drug use and problematic substance use disorder,” Krinsky said.
The Tarrant County Narcotics Unit doesn’t plan to go after individual drug users, Ferry said.
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