Florida lawmakers are responding to the dramatic increase in fatal opioid overdoses with two bills that would make it easier to prosecute drug dealers.
Nearly 250 people died from synthetic opioid abuse in Miami-Dade County in 2016. Not a single dealer was charged with manslaughter or felony murder.
“The people bringing these drugs in, selling and trafficking them, deserve to be punished as hard and as fast as possible,” says FL State Rep. Jim Boyd.
Heroin and synthetic opioids have become a huge problem following Florida’s massive crackdown on prescription painkillers. Current Florida laws allow for cocaine and heroin dealers to be charged with felony murder, but do nothing to address those who sell fatal doses of synthetic drugs.
If HB 477 and SB 150 pass, these drug dealers could face manslaughter chargers if they are connected to a fatal overdose case.
The opioid epidemic has been particularly bad in Florida, where heroin-related deaths increased almost 80% between 2014 and 2015. According to the DEA, the synthetic opioid fentanyl caused over 700 deaths in 2013 and 2014. Most state crime labs don’t test for fentanyl, so the actual number of deaths is probably higher.
Classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the FDA, fentanyl is generally prescribed only to patients with intolerances or allergies to other narcotics. It is 50x more potent than heroin.
“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” explains Democratic Florida State Senator Oscar Braynon.
Braynon and other critics believe that HB 477 and SB 150 will have a negative impact on minority communities and will do nothing to address the problem of addiction.
“If your objective is reducing the loss of life and overdoses then you do not spend your money on these kinds of laws,” complains Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is a lot of money spent on busting and prosecuting these low-level dealers, but it has no effect on the market.”
GOP lawmakers, with support from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Sheriff’s Association, rightly insist that drug traffickers and dealers must be held responsible.
“Drugs are such an insidious thing and when you stop one drug, another one pops up,” says Boyd. “My bill (HB 477) gets at the law enforcement angle and goes after the dealers and traffickers.”
“The message is that if you’re going to play with the tools of death, you should be held accountable,” says Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Editor’s note: Now if they would just sentence dealers to life in prison if they sell to anyone underage, we would actually make a dent in this problem.