COLUMBUS — The Ohio Se­nate has re­launched con­sid­er­a­tion of leg­is­la­tion that would in­crease penal­ties for the pos­ses­sion and sale of a pow­er­ful opi­oid that’s be­ing added to heroin and lead­ing to more over­dose deaths in the state.

Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hud­son) is car­ry­ing this ses­sion’s SB 1, which is com­pa­ra­ble to an­other bill he spon­sored that moved through the cham­ber last ses­sion but stalled in the Ohio House be­fore the end of the year.

LaRose of­fered spon­sor tes­ti­mony on the new bill Feb. 8 be­fore the Se­nate’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, with hopes that the law changes will be en­acted this ses­sion.

"This leg­is­la­tion tar­gets any­one traf­fick­ing fen­tanyl-re­lated sub­stances," LaRose said. "I’ll be clear: I think most of us agree that those who are ad­dicted need to be in treat­ment, but those who are traf­fick­ing this poi­son need to be in prison."

Fen­tanyl is typ­i­cally used in anes­the­sia to treat pa­tients with ex­treme pain or to man­age pain af­ter surgery. The drug is 30-50 times more po­tent than heroin.

In 2015, a record 3,050 Ohio res­i­dents died as a re­sult of un­in­ten­tional drug over­doses, up from 2,531 a year ear­lier and 2,110 in 2013, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased by the Ohio Depart­ment of Health. Fen­tanyl helped push the re­sults higher, ac­count­ing for 1,155 over­dose deaths.

"Over­doses killed more peo­ple than car crashes in the state of Ohio [last year]," LaRose said, cit­ing sta­tis­tics com­piled by the State High­way Pa­trol. "… That’s a stag­ger­ing, stag­ger­ing fact."

Among other pro­vi­sions, SB 1 would in­crease the crim­i­nal penal­ties for the sell­ing, pos­sess­ing or oth­er­wise pro­vid­ing fen­tanyl to oth­ers, with lower amounts re­quired for higher felony con­vic­tions. Ad­dicts caught with the drug also would be el­i­gi­ble for treat­ment as part of their sen­tenc­ing.

LaRose said the leg­is­la­tion fo­cuses on pe­nal­iz­ing push­ers — "mak­ing sure that we can go af­ter the traf­fick­ers who are putting this poi­son out on our streets while not at the same time un­wit­tingly snar­ing those who are ad­dicts and who need to be in treat­ment, not in prison."

Marc Ko­vac cov­ers the Ohio State­house for Gate­house Me­dia. Con­tact him at mko­vac@record­pub.com or on Twit­ter at OhioCap­i­talBlog.