Sacramento, Calif.: Pamela Smith remembers vividly the last time she saw her only son alive.
It was 3:18 a.m. on July 3, 2016, in Fresno, California, and 22-year-old Jackson Smith was lying motionless on a table in an emergency room while a nurse performed chest compressions. Earlier that night, he had taken an oxycodone pill laced with fentanyl, and then he stopped breathing. Within seconds of his mother entering the emergency room, he died.
Since then, Smith has dedicated her life to fighting the fentanyl crisis. This year, that has meant advocating for some of the more than 30 bills introduced in the California Legislature to address the issue.
But a number of those bills have since stalled, caught in a philosophical dispute between lawmakers about the best way to address a crisis that is killing roughly 110 people in the state each week. About half of the proposals focus on public safety measures, such as punishing drug dealers with longer prison sentences, while the others aim to increase accessibility to fentanyl overdose treatments, and to create education and prevention programs.
The bills focusing on public safety measures were at risk of getting lost until Smith and dozens of other protesters converged on the state Capitol last week demanding they be heard. Six of those bills, including four that would increase fentanyl penalties, got a public hearing Thursday.