BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — In West Virginia, state lawmakers must balance substance use disorder recovery with the fight against dangerous and deadly drugs like fentanyl and heroin, which are coming into the state.

Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Anthony Ciliberti said on Friday, February 24, 2023, that changes proposed in Senate Bill 547 could help West Virginians.

The bill enhances penalties for transporting controlled substances into the state and would change how the weight of controlled substances is determined for prosecution.

“Under the law as it exists now, if a defendant sells cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, all at the same time in three different packages, that’s one crime,” said Ciliberti. “It will give us the ability to charge multiple felonies, based, basically even controlled substance involved in the transaction can be charged as a separate offense, provided it’s packaged differently.”

He said the weight of the package will be treated as the controlled substance which was sold in the transaction.

A more controversial change in the bill would elevate possession of some dangerous drugs like fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine from a misdemeanor to a felony, regardless of the amount. If an offender agrees to enter a diversionary program, Ciliberti said the charge can be reduced to a misdemeanor.

 Counties currently face delays in getting lab results from the state crime lab in felony cases, Ciliberti says. So often that drugs seized in misdemeanor cases are not sent for testing. He said if the drug is elevated to a felony, testing will have more priority.

“But the other issue is, it also gives the defendant incentive to address the underlying problem which is having an issue with substance use disorder,” he said.