Two recent articles ("Arrest in fentanyl overdoses of West Point cadets in Florida," March 12, and "Fentanyl fear: St. Cloud reports 2-day spike in overdoses," Feb. 27) cause me to write about this horrific drug and what can be done in Minnesota.

Much has been opined about what sort of public-safety policy legislation can be accomplished this legislative session, where divided government exists and election year politics are running rampant.

And yet, quietly, advancements have been made to bring bipartisan attention to the devastating impacts of fentanyl-laced illegal drugs that are claiming the lives of far too many Minnesotans.

The changes proposed in legislation championed by Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, and Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, adjust Minnesota statutes to establish the same weight thresholds and penalties for the sale or possession of fentanyl as currently apply to heroin. These adjustments are important. Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, and Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, have co-authored comparable bills in the House.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid now being added to many illegal drugs sold across America, is a huge, fast-growing problem. Overdose deaths involving fentanyl have skyrocketed in the past 15 years, rising 12-fold among white Americans, 24-fold among African Americans and 30-fold among American Indians. In Minnesota, fentanyl-related deaths are now significantly higher than deaths caused by heroin use in all three of these communities. We cannot let these trends continue. Saving lives is at the cornerstone of these bills' goals.

And yet, today in Minnesota the weight thresholds needed for prosecution of crimes involving fentanyl are significantly higher than those for heroin, even though fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and far deadlier.

Correcting this problem is critical in efforts to hold fentanyl dealers accountable for distribution of this extremely dangerous substance. These changes will also allow nonviolent chemically addicted offenders to get the treatment they need, saving lives.

Last session, the Senate bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. The House bill did not receive a hearing. This session, the Senate Judiciary Committee is prioritizing penalty increases for crimes affecting regular Minnesotans' daily lives to deter criminally dangerous behaviors. The House Public Safety Committee is prioritizing just responses to systemic inequities.

Aligning fentanyl thresholds for proper prosecution of dealers and securing treatment for those with chemical addictions achieves both of these priorities. Please join the Minnesota County Attorneys Association in calling upon our public safety leaders to pass this critically needed legislation.

Robert Small is executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.