Federal drug officials have said the prescription opioid known as fentanyl has the potential to be 50 times more powerful than heroin. But here in New Jersey, the penalties for manufacturing and dispensing fentanyl are different than those associated with heroin.

Don Bayley, ThinkStock

A new bill in Trenton aims to change that.

The measure, introduced by state Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-Brick), would revise the potential fines and jail time for unlawfully manufacturing, distributing and dispensing fentanyl so that it falls in line with New Jersey's current laws for heroin and cocaine.

"The evidence is undeniable - fentanyl is so dangerously potent that even one use can be an instant death sentence," Holzapfel said in a press release announcing the new legislation.

The release noted that in New Jersey, overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl tripled in 2014.

On the streets, fentanyl has been passed off as pure heroin, or bags of heroin have been laced with the colorless, odorless opioid.

But unlike heroin, fentanyl is not illegal in every instance. In fact, according to Dr. Steven Marcus with the New Jersey Poison Center, fentanyl is legally prescribed or administered on a daily basis at every hospital in the Garden State.

"It is a very powerful pain-reducing agent," Marcus said. "It can be used orally, it can be used intravenously, it can be used in patches."

But when in the wrong hands, Marcus said, fentanyl can kill.

"If you used a gram of fentanyl, you're dead; a gram of heroin, you may survive," he said.

A version of Holzapfel's measure has been introduced in the Assembly as well.

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