Heroin Epidemic

Florida Senate unanimously passes bill that would allow fentanyl dealers to be charged with murder

Then Sheriff-elect Rick Wells and Capt. Todd Shear participate with Congressman Vern Buchanan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio as they hold a roundtable discussion about the heroin epidemic at Manatee Memorial Hospital in October.
Then Sheriff-elect Rick Wells and Capt. Todd Shear participate with Congressman Vern Buchanan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio as they hold a roundtable discussion about the heroin epidemic at Manatee Memorial Hospital in October. ttompkins@bradenton.com

The Florida Senate has unanimously passed bipartisan legislation that would allow drug dealers who distribute fentanyl or synthetic forms of the drug to be charged with murder if their customers die from an overdose.

House Bill 477, co-introduced by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, would add fentanyl, carfentanil and several other synthetic forms of the drug to the list of schedule I controlled substances, if Gov. Rick Scott signs the measure into law.

The bill also would also add a charge of trafficking in fentanyl to the current statute, making it a first-degree felony to possess more than four grams of fentanyl, with mandatory minimum prison terms and mandatory fines based on the quantity.

Senate Bill 150, the Senate version of the bill introduced by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, adopted the text of the House bill late last week. On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed HB 477.

The bill, unanimously passed by the Florida House two weeks ago, was the result of a comprehensive effort by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Attorney General’s office, the Florida Sheriff’s Association and scientists and chemists to ensure the language addresses the issues law enforcement and the courts have faced.

Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells says they are confident Scott will sign the legislation into law.

“We have always said that the law pertaining to fentanyl has to be tougher and mirror that of the heroin statute,” Wells said. “We just want to make sure the drug dealers selling the poison, that they are held accountable, that they are put in jail.”

Fentanyl — an opioid painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine — is being cut into heroin supplies or sold as heroin. More recently, carfentanil — 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and often used as a tranquilizer to subdue large exotic animals such as rhinos, elephants and hippos — and other synthetic forms of fentanyl are being cut into or sold as heroin.

Dealers have cutting fentanyl or its synthetic forms into heroin supplies or often selling it as heroin, which has intensified the heroin epidemic in Manatee County.

Currently anyone arrested for dealing in fentanyl or its synthetic forms is charged with selling or possessing a controlled substance. As a result dealers get a low bond regardless of quantity when arrested, as well as minimum sentences and fines if convicted.

“Basically, there was no deterrent,” Wells said.

More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012

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