SARASOTA- Manatee and Sarasota Counties are among the epicenters of Florida’s opioid crisis with record numbers of overdoses. Local legislators worked to pass legislation targeting dealers of fentanyl-related substances, and Governor Scott signed that bill into law on the Suncoast Tuesday.
Manatee County ranks highest in fentanyl-related overdose deaths, and Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells says this new law will help them put away those responsible.
“It finally gives us some teeth in the law,” Sheriff Wells said. “Before the law did not really deter these drug dealers out here from selling this poison on the street, killing people, they were not really given any type of a sentence.”
The new law allows dealers of fentanyl-related substances to be charged with felony murder if the drug is proven to be the cause of death of the user.
“If we can put the dealers behind bars,” Sen. Steube said. “And put them behind bars for a long time, then maybe that will solve the problem of people getting their hands on these drugs.”
Senator Greg Steube sponsored the legislation which also makes fentanyl a schedule one narcotic, with mandatory minimum sentences.
“It’s not structured to your everyday users,” Steube said. “Because 4 grams of fentanyl is a lot of fentanyl, about 6 grains of salt of fentanyl can kill you, and 4 grams is a large vial worth, so if you’ve got 4 grams of fentanyl your dealing in fentanyl.”
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight says you can’t arrest the opioid problem away, but this legislation is one step in fighting the epidemic.
“The governor’s legislation that he signed today,” Knight said. “Gives us that authority to go ahead and get the dealers, and we can work with the addicts to help get them healthy and work on prevention.”
Governor Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency to fight the epidemic and provide more resources.
“We also have worked to make sure all of our first responders have naloxone so they can save people’s lives, but ultimately we all have to figure out what are the things we can do to stop this opioid crisis.”
Scott says local taskforces are working to determine the best use of resources.
“The dollars that we’re spending,” Scott said. “And we’re spending over a billion dollars, on mental illness, on issues like this, how do you spend that better, part of its spent through corrections, DCF, DJJ and a variety of other issues.”
Scott says he plans to continue working with the legislature to pass even more bills targeting the opioid crisis next year.