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Reynolds signs law increasing penalties for selling fentanyl

governor kim reynolds signs a bill into law surrounded by law enforcement officials and lawmakers
Katarina Sostaric
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill in Atlantic Tuesday that increases criminal penalties for selling fentanyl.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Tuesday that increases penalties for dealing fentanyl and for causing death or serious injury by selling any illegal drug.

It also allows law enforcement agencies, fire departments, schools, and health care workers to distribute opioid overdose reversal drugs to Iowans who may be in a position to assist someone who experiences an overdose.

Before signing the bill, Reynolds met with law enforcement officials in Atlantic who were involved in the investigation and prosecution of a fentanyl trafficking ring in Cass and Shelby counties that caused overdose deaths.

Reynolds said Iowa had a 45% increase in opioid overdose deaths from 2019 to 2022 and a 160% spike among Iowans under the age of 25. She blamed the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border for the influx of fentanyl-laced pills.

“We can’t fix the border crisis ourselves or force the Biden administration to care,” Reynolds said. “But we can take a stand by treating fentanyl crimes as the atrocities they are, and that is exactly what this bill does.”

Fentanyl is mostly being produced in Mexico and smuggled through official border crossings, often in vehicles driven by U.S. citizens, according tothe U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

It’s a synthetic opioid that can be deadly in very small quantities. While some people use fentanyl on purpose, others accidentally ingest it when fentanyl is added to other drugs or counterfeit pain pills.

Iowa lawmakers combined Reynolds’ bill aimed at combating fentanyl overdoses with a proposal from Attorney General Brenna Bird.

Bird said drug dealers who cause an overdose death are currently prosecuted at the federal level, and the new law adds provisions that will allow such crimes to be prosecuted at the state level.

“As a prosecutor, nothing is harder than looking a family in the eye and telling them that Iowa law doesn’t provide them the justice they deserve for the death of their loved one due to a drug dealer,” Bird said. “Drug dealers who kill and poison with overdoses will be punished when this law is signed today.”

The bill passed the legislature with bipartisan support. But Democrats also called for more action to prevent overdoses, including boosting resources for substance use disorder treatment and legalizing fentanyl test strips.

Reynolds said Tuesday she does not support legalizing test strips that allow people to check if drugs are spiked with fentanyl.

Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said law enforcement officials don’t think they can arrest their way out of this problem, but he said it’s one part of the solution.

“The legislation being signed today will undoubtedly equip law enforcement and prosecutors with another needed tool designed to dismantle those drug trafficking organizations that insist on peddling poison to the people of Iowa,” he said.

Bayens said the demand for drugs also needs to be addressed to cut down on drug trafficking.

The new law takes effect July 1.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter