By Devin Bartolotta

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)– As opioid and heroin deaths in the state climb every day, the Maryland General Assembly is focusing its efforts on protecting kids from the drugs.

Harford County officials are taking the lead on a bill, which would give judges the power to hand down stiff sentences to dealers who sell fatal doses to underage users. The officials are hoping the threat of 30 years in prison would make dealers second guess selling to kids.

Tuesday in Annapolis, Harford County officials announced a bill that would allow judges to hand down a maximum 30-year-sentence to drug dealers whose supply kills underage users.

Overdoses in Harford County are already at a 25 percent increase from last year.

“These adult drug dealers preying on our minor children. A lot of these kids, you know, they’re from 13, 14, 15, 16 and they don’t know what they’re doing,” said Rep. Teresa Reilly (R) District 35B.

The unthinkable nightmare became a reality for Mark and Nancy Jones’ 17-year-old daughter, Amber.

“I was shocked. I’ll never forget when the day Amber told me she had been using. I was blown away. Blown away,” Jones said. “Young people are so easily manipulated, and they just get suckered right in.”

The Harford County teen fatally overdosed in 2016. Her dealer is currently serving three years in prison.

“It wasn’t long after she discovered heroin where it had taken her life. She had gotten out of rehab, and it was just a matter of a couple weeks and she was gone,” Jones said.

Harford County’s elite Narcotics Task Force has been a strong force on the front lines of the epidemic, arresting more than 50 people last year suspected of dealing opiates.

“We want to send a message that if you’re going to do that with our young people, especially our juveniles, you’re going to have some serious enhanced penalties coming your way,” Captain Lee Dunbar of the Harford County Narcotic Task Force.

These stiff penalties will have to make it through the General Assembly before it becomes law. The first hearing for the bill was Tuesday.

The Maryland General Assembly passed several bills last year to aid the opioid crisis, including one which expands access to naloxone.

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