Georgia Enacts New Fentanyl Penalties, Naloxone Access (Sort of) in Schools

    More than 100 new laws took effect in Georgia on July 1. Though only some sections of punitive cash bail legislation were enacted, after a judge temporarily blocked the full version, many other new laws pertaining to harm reduction have now been enacted.

    One of them expands access to opioid-overdose reversal medications. Another makes fentanyl distribution punishable by life in prison.

    Both fall in line with similar legislation that’s been taken up around the country over the past year or two, much of it at the urging of the White House. They represent deliberate indifference to reducing overdose death, and naked enthusiasm for criminalizing it.


    Naloxone Access

    Georgia will now require public schools to keep opioid-overdose reversal drugs like naloxone on the premises. Tellingly, SB 395 stipulates that it applies to not just naloxone, but also to any other “similarly acting drug that is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of an opioid related overdose.” We can safely assume that “any opioid antagonist” is language that’s been chosen to leave room for nalmefene—a different opioid antagonist, with much greater potential for harm compared to naloxone.

    The legislation supports the right of visitors and staff to carry such drugs on their person while on school grounds, and outlines Good Samaritan protections for staff who administer them—as well as protections for staff who choose not to. The legislation doesn’t clarify whether it intends to oppose students who want to carry such medications themselves, as school boards elsewhere have done.

    If this legislation were really about protecting students, it would explicitly authorize them to carry naloxone on school grounds or at school functions, and provide training free of fentanyl misinformation. If a student starts to experience an overdose, the people likely to be with them are their peers, not staff.

    Opioid antagonists cannot be used to get high and are not associated with increased opioid use. Naloxone products are now available without a prescription, and federal guidelines suggest no age restriction. Nor did Georgia specify one in the standing order it’s been using to mass-prescribe naloxone since 2019.

    The legislation further requires government buildings, including courthouses, to keep at least three doses of an opioid overdose antidote on the premises. It specifies training and education requirements for staff at those locations, but is more ambiguous on training requirements at schools.

    Lastly, it adds “any harm reduction organization acting in good faith and within the scope of its services” to the list of authorized health practitioners protected under Good Samaritan legislation. This is a bit more explicit than the previous version of the legislation, putting staff at syringe service programs or similar entities in the same category as pharmacists or state health officers.


    Fentanyl Homicide Legislation

    Georgia joins the wave of states across the country enacting or expanding fentanyl homicide legislation. With SB 465, fentanyl distribution that can be linked to fatal overdose can now be prosecuted as aggravated involuntary manslaughter—a felony punishable with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and the potential for life imprisonment. It does not matter whether the defendant knew that the drugs in question contained fentanyl.

    The law also criminalizes punches and dies, and other equipment associated with counterfeit pill production. Possession, use or sale of these items is now a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. This portion of the law is also part of a national crackdown. Tableting equipment has been under a spotlight since 2023, as the White House escalates its war on synthetic drugs.

    The legislation received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.

    The people prosecuted under the new law will be disproportionately Black and Brown. Rather than addressing systemic barriers to accessing housing or health care, or allocating resources to harm reduction, lawmakers will further criminalize people who sell drugs at the local level while telling the public that this is making a dent in organized trafficking. This is a punitive approach with no interest in meaningful solutions.



    Photograph (cropped) via Georgia Building Authority

    • C is a writer and advocate interested in prison/criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, harm reduction and government/cultural criticism. She has studied history/theology with the Third Order of Carmelites and completed degrees in Systematic Theology. She is currently studying law.

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