Senators are considering amendments to a bill that would make it illegal to manufacture and distribute fentanyl in West Virginia, adding it to the state’s list of schedule one drugs.
One Senator, however, thinks the bill may prohibit doctors from prescribing the drug for terminally ill patients, which caused some delay to consideration Friday.
House Bill 23-29 would make it illegal to produce, distribute, transport or use fentanyl in the state. The bill passed out of the House at the beginning of March on a 95 to 3 vote.
Fentanyl is a narcotic used to treat severe pain, but has also been responsible for many drug overdose deaths in the state.
In August, 26 overdoses were reported in just a few hours after a batch of heroin laced with fentanyl was sold in Huntington. The drug is so strong, it can take several doses of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone to revive a patient.
The bill sets up felony penalties of 2 to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
In addition to the penalties, the bill makes fentanyl a schedule one drug, which means it is illegal to prescribe or distribute because it has no medicinal value. Schedule one drugs include things like heroin and cocaine.
The bill was on second reading in the Senate Friday and Sen. Ron Stollings questioned whether that provision would cause problems for doctors like himself.
“We prescribe duragesic, which is a fentanyl patch, for patents with legitimate pain and frequently with terminal pain and it’s a schedule two drug right now and if we change it to a schedule one drug, we’re not going to be able to prescribe that anymore," Stollings said, "and I think we’re doing something here that we don’t intend to do.”
Stollings said he agrees that any injectable form of the drug should be illegal, but the timed release patches he often prescribes to cancer patients to treat pain should not.
Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump agreed and moved to advance the bill to its third reading with the ability to offer more amendments.
Senators will take up the bill during a 9 am floor session tomorrow, potentially amending it and putting it to a final vote.