Fighting to protect our communities from fentanyl
Just last month, Andrew and Brandi Wonacott of Yakima, Wash., reached out to me with a story no parent should ever have to tell. Andy and Brandi had two of their four children, William and James, succumb to illicit fentanyl overdose in separate instances. They lost half of their children to this evil drug, and that is unacceptable.
On April 16, 2021, William, a United States Air Force veteran and husband, died from fentanyl. Less than two years later, his brother, James, passed away at the age of 30. James was known and revered as a loving and involved member of the Yakima community.
The fentanyl crisis has taken far too many victims, including on many of the families in our communities like the Wonacotts. Last year, more than 100,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose, largely driven by the rampant spread of illicit fentanyl. The exponential increase of drug overdoses in Central Washington and across the nation has been plaguing our communities and ripping families apart. Two milligrams of fentanyl, which is equivalent to a few grains of sand, is enough to be a lethal dose. In other words, it only takes one pill to kill.
I have gotten to know the Wonacotts and other families from Central Washington who were forced to deal with unimaginable tragedies. I’ve also had conversations with law enforcement officers, health care experts, addiction treatment centers, and drug court judges and prosecutors. One thing is abundantly clear: we must do more to fight this fentanyl crisis that is wiping out a generation of our children.
Last week, I introduced the William and James Wonacott Act, named in honor of the two young men who were taken from this earth far too soon. This legislation will enhance penalties for those who sell, give, or distribute any substance that contains two milligrams or more of illicit fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances to another person without such person’s knowledge. More specifically, the bill would define federal punishments by making these actions equivalent to first-degree murder with a mandatory minimum of 20 years and the possibility of life in the case of a person whose consumption does not result in a death, and a mandatory minimum of 25 years and the possibility of life if these actions result in a death. This legislation is crucial in holding the dealers accountable for taking the lives of thousands.
Earlier this year, I re-introduced the Save Americans from the Fentanyl Emergency (SAFE) Act. This crucial piece of legislation permanently schedules all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs to ensure our law enforcement can prosecute the use and sale of these substances. The SAFE Act also eliminates any incentive for criminals to develop new variations of fentanyl analogues to try and evade law enforcement, protecting our communities for decades to come.
After introducing the William and James Wonacott Act, the Wonacott family and I held a roundtable in Yakima with families of fentanyl victims, community leaders, law enforcement, medical professionals, opioid treatment workers, and drug court judges and prosecutors to get a well-rounded perspective on what else can be done to combat fentanyl from taking any more victims. Our biggest takeaway was that we must use a multi-pronged approach if we are to succeed in this fight.
The solution requires commonsense approaches with many different perspectives, involvement from community leaders and experts who are fighting this crisis on the frontlines, continuous education to the public on the preventative measures against fentanyl, and support from all Americans. While it’s going to take more than just a piece of legislation or strong language to solve this crisis, by having conversations like the one we had last week we will start to make progress on this issue.
I urge my colleagues in Congress to pass this legislation and hold those accountable who are knowingly killing our children with illicit fentanyl. I will work tirelessly to bring justice in William and James’ honor to hold dealers accountable, continue working with community leaders and experts on the frontlines to bring forth more solutions, and ensure no parent ever has to go through the pain the Wonacott family and thousands of others have endured.
Dan Newhouse represents Washington’s 4th District.
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