Authorities fighting the opiate wars in the Bay State opened another front yesterday, announcing legislation that would increase the penalty for possession of a more than 10 grams of fentanyl to 20 years in prison.

Attorney General Maura Healey said the legislation was necessary to combat drug dealers who often spike heroin with fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin —  to boost the potency. 

The new law would treat possession of more than 10 grams —a little more than a third of an ounce — as evidence of intent to traffic fentanyl.

“Drug cartels have figured out a way to manufacture fentanyl, and they are sending it out on our streets,” Healey said. “The reality is that many heroin users do not know the drugs they are using contain fentanyl.”

Dr. Dan Carr, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine Program Director, Pain, Research Education & Policy at Tufts Medical said that fentanyl was first developed as a substitute for morphine used in anesthesia, but was far more powerful, and its potency creates huge risks when used illicitly. 

“It augments all of the risks that already exist in an opioid,” Carr said. “Unlike morphine, fentanyl can cause muscles to go so rigid, they can’t breath even if they want to. We’re trained to be able to handle it in the operating room, but you can’t be prepared for that on the streets.”

Cathy Fennelly, the mother of a Quincy man who died from an overdose, stood by as Healy outlined her plan Monday. Fennelly knew her son, Paul, had a drug problem— he started smoking pot at age 13, moved onto alcohol and then into pills which lead to heroin. But it was a heroin/fentanyl mix that took Paul’s life. 

“I watched him suffer for eight long years,” Fennelly said. “I saw him go through horrific things. It is not something that somebody chooses. They have to the first time, but it turns you into someone you never thought you’d be. It’s an instant death and they don’t even know. We’re going to lose a generation if we don’t do something to stop this.”