Penalties for manufacturing or distributing fentanyl in New Jersey would double under a proposal gaining traction after Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday issued an emergency order banning seven knock-off versions of the prescription drug used to treat terminal patients.

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The bill sponsored by state Sen. Jim Holzapfel, R-Ocean, would make producing and dealing fentanyl a first-degree offense, upping the punishment from 10 to 20 years in prison.

"These are the maximums that you face and it's certainly going to be in my mind, a deterrent," said Holzapfel.

Holzapfel pointed out that fentanyl is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

"In many instances it's a death sentence. You start using this stuff and there's no way of knowing the quality of the strength of what you're doing," Holzapfel said.

More than 150 deaths in New Jersey this year have been linked to fentanyl, according to Holzapfel.

"It is just so dramatically fatal to users," he said. Fentanyl also is odorless and colorless, making it nearly impossible to detect when laced with heroin.

Under Holzapfel's bill, those convicted of manufacturing or distributing fentanyl would have to serve one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. Those convicted of unlawfully producing or dispensing less than one ounce of fentanyl also would face larger fines.

The Senate Health Committee advanced the measure, S-1026, this week. The Assembly version of the bill is sponsored by fellow District 10 Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, also planned to introduce legislation this week to codify the proposals announced by Governor Christie Tuesday.

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.

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