The U.S. Attorney for Maryland, Robert Hur, discusses a new effort in Baltimore to prosecute federally drug dealers who peddle the deadly opioid fentanyl. (Baltimore Sun)

With the number of fentanyl overdoses soaring in Maryland, federal prosecutors say they plan to bring more state drug cases to federal court, where penalties are stiffer.

U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert Hur said his office will review every arrest involving fentanyl in Baltimore. Then officials will decide which cases could be prosecuted in U.S. District Court in the city.


“We are eager to do more of these,” Hur said.

He announced the new effort Wednesday alongside Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. She offered support for more federal prosecutions, saying fentanyl is killing people “in mass scales.”

“You are more likely to die from fentanyl-laced drugs than gun violence in the city,” Mosby said.

A powerful opioid drug, fentanyl killed nearly 1,600 people last year in Maryland, according to state health officials. A decade ago, the drug killed 26.

The number of drug and alcohol-related deaths increased 9 percent in 2017, according to data released by the Maryland Department of Health. Most of them were opioid related.

State and federal drug laws overlap and prosecutors must often decide whether to bring a case in state or federal court. The new review means authorities aim to push more of these cases into federal court.

A federal conviction brings stiffer penalties because there is no chance for parole or suspended sentences. Those convicted federally also face mandatory minimum sentences.

“You don’t want to come against the U.S. attorney and federal sentencing guidelines,” Mosby said.

Under federal law, those convicted of selling 40 grams of fentanyl face a minimum of five years in prison. A drug dealer who causes an overdose faces a minimum of 20 years.

In state court, however, judges could hand down sentences below these minimums.

Unintentional drug-and-alcohol-related intoxication deaths in Maryland05001,0001,5002,000’13’14’15’16’17Opioid-related Not opioid-related Made with ChartbuilderData: Maryland Department of Health