BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — A bill to create penalties for the possession of fentanyl and exposing first responders to the substance overwhelmingly passed in the House of Delegates January 24, 2021. First responders in Beckley believe it is a step in the right direction.

The bill passed 94 in favor and two against with four delegates absent. The bill is intended to protect “governmental representatives” including emergency service personnel, law enforcement officers and healthcare workers.

The Director of Operations at Jan-Care Ambulance Paul Seamann, said responding to overdose or drug-related calls can pose a danger to first responders.

“We do not get to control that environment, we do not get to inspect that environment as well as we can,” Seamann said. “We have to be absolutely alert that we are not kneeling on substances or kneeling on needles and things like that, that could injure us with these high-dose fentanyl scenarios.”

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are responsible for more than 1,000 overdose deaths in West Virginia. Fentanyl as prescribed is used to treat severe pain and typically used for patients with cancer. Signs of fentanyl abuse and overdose can include loss of consciousness, decreased heart rate, low blood pressure, nausea and vomiting.

Jan-Care ambulance regularly responds to multiple drug-related calls per day in Raleigh, Fayette, Wyoming, McDowell and Nicholas counties. It is unclear whether the legislation will stop the volume of overdose instances in the Mountain State.

“Any step that can be made to allow people to understand how dangerous these drugs are is a step in the right direction and we want more and more information and backing to help support those that are dealing with this acute drug crisis,” Seamann said.

The bill would make exposure of fentanyl or other harmful substances a misdemeanor with up to 500-dollars in fines and one year in prison. If someone is harmed by exposure, the crime is upgraded to a felony and includes a fine of up to 2,000 dollars and two to five years in prison.

The bill was passed to the Senate Judiciary Committee January 25, 2021 where it will continue to go through the legislative process.