SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – Taylorville Police Chief Dwayne Wheeler sees people addicted to meth and heroin come into their Safe Passage Program for treatment. 

The program allows people with any addiction to walk into his police station and receive treatment.

“[We] talk about what your drug of choice is … and then we get you help, and we have a lot of treatment centers that we work with,” Wheeler said. “For us to find a bed for somebody, it’s not that hard to do.”

But lately, Wheeler said people are coming in with drugs mixed with synthetic compounds. 

“They’ve been talking about fentanyl too,” Wheeler said. 

This makes him worried.

“If somebody started mixing fentanyl, with your heroin and your meth, you’re going to overdose,” Wheeler said. “Fentanyl is dangerous, completely dangerous and whatever the legislators can do to make it a harsher penalty to deter this drug would be great for us because it’s a danger.”

According to the CDC, overdose deaths from synthetic drugs — including fentanyl — rose more than 56 percent from 2019 to 2020, which has left Illinois lawmakers concerned.

“We cannot sit by and watch innocent lives be taken by such a villainous drug, and an epidemic that could be curbed with decisive, thoughtful action,” Rep. Chris Bos, a Republican House member from Lake Zurich, said. 

That’s why House Republicans introduced a bill Thursday to add tougher restrictions on the possession and distribution of fentanyl.

This includes going after the manufacturing of fentanyl that makes it appealing to young people.

It also gives state’s attorneys more ways of targeting stronger forms of fentanyl.

The Republican bill is a shift from the strategy Democrats have taken for years.  

“Republicans tend to believe that more penalties produce better outcomes,” Rep. Carol Ammons, a House Democrat from Champaign, said. “Every research institution, we’re here at the University of Illinois, have already proven that that is a false narrative and not true.”

Last year, Ammons introduced a bill to reduce the penalties for possession of small amounts of controlled substances, like fentanyl. After passing the House, the bill went to the Senate but did not pass. 

“Our efforts with the ACLU of Illinois was really to not only challenge the current ideology, that everyone who may be in possession of a drug substance should be locked up in our county jails or prisons,” Ammons said. “Our view of that is that this is an addiction issue, and it provides for instability of communities when you lock people up, who have drug addiction.”

But Republicans say it’s not the right approach.

“Now is not the time to be relaxing restrictions on the possession and distribution of fentanyl and its analogs,” Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, a Republican from Elmhurst, said. “If anything, we should be cracking down harder on the fentanyl that is so terribly spreading its way through our streets, into a number of drugs and literally causing the deaths of people in our communities.”

Wheeler believes there needs to be strict penalties with regards to fentanyl, but said Ammons’ bill can help save lives.

“They call the police, and the police get there with the ambulance and then if there is drugs under, I think it’s three grams, then you won’t be charged,” Wheeler said. “That was more of basically ‘Listen, stay with your friend, call the police, don’t run out the door, or the hotel room, or the apartment, or the house and let your friend die because you’re scared that you’re going to go and get in trouble.’ You’re not going to get in trouble. Just stay with your friend.”

Wheeler also said he advises people to administer Narcan, a drug that helps treat opioid overdoses, and call 911.