BOISE - Legislation designed to combat opioid addiction has been introduced in the Idaho Legislature.
Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat from Boise, said Monday his bill would slap a second-degree murder charge on anyone who sells heroin to a user who then directly or indirectly dies because of that sale.
"It's becoming a huge, serious problem," Gannon said. "It's here in Boise and people need to be aware of its dangers."
The drastically increasing rates of painkiller and heroin abuse have alarmed public officials across the country, but lawmakers have repeatedly struggled to find the right solution as advocacy groups have pushed states to do more.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says it tracked more than 500 state bills dealing with prescription drug abuse in 2016. The organization expects a similar number is expected this year.
Meanwhile, reported drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed 63 percent in Idaho between 2006 and 2014, with a total of 1,544 deaths during that period.
"The message of this bill is, if you are selling drugs in Idaho - specifically heroin - you need to stop and leave," Gannon said.
If signed into law, the measure would apply only to the sale of heroin. Someone who gave or shared the drug with another person would not face the penalty.
Rep. James Holtzclaw, a Republican from Meridian, said he believed the bill would get traction in the House. Like Gannon, he said he wanted to send a strong message to heroin dealers in the Valley and beyond.
"We're not going to sit idly by and allow you to come destroy our community and our state," he said. "It's not going to happen."
Under Idaho law, second-degree murder is punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum of life. Holtzclaw said he doesn't think that's too severe a penalty.
"I don't think it's heavy-handed at all," he said. "That's exactly what the drug pushers are doing - they're selling death, and we should label it as such."
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee agreed to send the proposal to a legislative hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.