Michigan House Republicans

State Rep. Sarah Lightner, center, testifies in support of her plan to combat the opioid crisis by cracking down on heroin and fentanyl dealers. She is joined by Jackson County Prosecutor Jerard Jarzynka, left, and Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township.

Rep. Lightner joined by local families, prosecutor in fight to combat fentanyl crisis
RELEASE|March 12, 2024

State Rep. Sarah Lightner, joined by Jackson County Prosecutor and two local families who have lost children to opioid overdoses, today testified in support of a plan to crack down on fentanyl distribution.

Lightner is helping sponsor the legislation, which protects Michiganders from deadly drugs by cracking down on heroin and fentanyl dealers in the state.

“Dealers who knowingly cut fentanyl into other drugs and put it out there in our communities are murderers,” said Lightner, R-Springport. “They know the consequences of their actions and they’re still doing it for the dollar. Then they get a slap on the hand when they get caught. It’s wrong. We need to get serious when it comes to the penalties to make these bad actors take a second look at what they’re doing.”

The bipartisan plan, House Bills 5124-26, would allow stronger sentences for criminals convicted of producing or distributing dangerous drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

A felony’s classification level factors into the sentencing decision after a criminal is convicted. The legislation would increase the felony class for crimes related to delivering or manufacturing heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. A higher classification would increase the likelihood of tougher prison sentences for illegal drug producers and dealers.

Julie Risner, Mike Hirst, and Jackson County Prosecutor Jerard M. Jarzynka joined Lightner to share their compelling stories with the House’s Criminal Justice Committee.

Risner spoke about her son, Christopher, who died from an overdose in 2018 after receiving heroin laced with fentanyl. The dealer who supplied the deadly combination was later sentenced to 11 years in prison.

“Our son was murdered by this man, and he only got 11 years,” Risner said. “The sentencing guidelines have to change. Give the judges better tools.”

After the death of his son, Andy, Mike Hirst founded a nonprofit called Andy’s Angels to increase awareness about opiate abuse and help people struggling with addiction. He said harsher penalties for dealers who distribute heroin and fentanyl is a step society needs to take.

“This a problem that’s destroying the moral fiber of our country right now – and we have the opportunity to do something about it,” Hirst said. “We can’t give an inch on this issue.”

Jarzynka spoke about the fentanyl problem that’s killing people in Jackson County and beyond.

“It’s frustrating to me, as a prosecutor, to see the death and destruction that’s pretty clearly limited to this particular drug, and nothing being done about it,” Jarzynka said.

The prosecutor said dealers are usually very familiar with state laws and make a point to carry limited quantities of deadly drugs like fentanyl to reduce their risk of serving time in prison. But even a very small amount of fentanyl is deadly.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that the individuals who are dealing this, they know all about sentencing guidelines. They know all about what kind of potential penalties are involved,” Jarzynka said. “We need to do something more than we’re doing to stop people from dying from fentanyl.”

House Bills 5124-5126 remain under consideration by the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Jackson County resident Julie Risner, whose son Christopher died of an accidental overdose in 2018, testifies in support of Lightner’s plan.


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