Jackson County families, prosecutor testify in support of legislation
State Rep. Julie Alexander was joined today in Lansing by local residents and the Jackson County prosecutor, who testified in support of her plan to increase penalties for people convicted of manufacturing or distributing heroin and fentanyl.
Alexander, of Hanover, introduced the legislation after discussing the issue with the family of Christopher Risner, who died last year at the age of 29 after taking drugs laced with fentanyl.
In the U.S., there were more than 47,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2017 – more than automobile accidents or firearm-related homicides. Many of those overdose deaths were from heroin and black-market fentanyl, which are becoming more widespread.
“Fentanyl is often used by drug dealers to cut heroin without a buyer’s knowledge,” Alexander said. “As fentanyl is used more, drug overdoses are becoming more and more common because most users do not realize how much stronger fentanyl is than heroin. With fentanyl and heroin deaths on the rise throughout Michigan, we must make sure our local law enforcement has the proper tools in place to manage this epidemic.”
House Bills 5137 and 5138, which Alexander introduced alongside Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit), would categorize convictions for the crime of manufacturing, delivering, or possessing with intent to deliver heroin or fentanyl as higher level offenses. This will increase the range of recommended minimum sentences for an offender.
Julie Risner, Christopher’s mother, spoke in support of Alexander’s legislation and told her son’s story to the House Judiciary Committee. Christopher worked with Andy’s Angels, a local non-profit dedicated to helping people struggling with addiction. In the last years of his life, Christopher also worked with prosecutors to help convict heroin dealers, who ended up serving minimal sentences.
“We find that it’s very hard to find the dealers with a large amount of cash or a large amount of heroin and fentanyl,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka told the committee. “In our county, fentanyl and heroin laced with fentanyl is killing people. It’s a serious issue, and it’s one of the reasons I support these bills. They give judges and prosecutors some options and tools to address fentanyl and heroin.”
Mike Hirst – who founded Andy’s Angels after the death of his son, Andy – said cracking down on dealers is a part of the solution.
“I understand completely that increasing sentencing guidelines are not going to solve the problem, but it is a component – and a valuable component,” Hirst said. “This, on top of education of the youth in our school systems, the work that we’re doing at Andy’s Place with a new type of recovery-supported housing, in conjunction with the drug courts – when you put all of these components together, then you’ve really got something to fight back with.”
The plan remains under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.