Gov. Rick Scott was in Sarasota on Tuesday to ceremoniously sign a bill that will create and increase penalties for trafficking deadly drugs like fentanyl.
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, sponsored HB 477, which will allow murder charges to be filed against someone accused of providing another with a deadly dose of a controlled substance. The law also classifies fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, as a schedule I drug, and deems it a first-degree felony for possessing 10 grams or more of certain schedule II substances.
“We had family members that struggled with drug abuse,” Scott said. “Anybody that has had a family member that has struggled with drug abuse, it’s tough.”
The governor noted how he declared a public health emergency related to the opioid crisis, streamlining $27 million in federal funding immediately to the state. Fourteen counties, including Manatee and Sarasota, will split $6 million of that fund for substance abuse treatment. Scott also said he personally spoke with President Donald Trump and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price about the opioid crisis.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, briefly spoke before Scott signed the bill. Buchanan noted that shutting down pill mills didn’t fix the drug issues in the state.
“It’s kind of like you stop one area and you get the momentum in some other area,” Buchanan said. “So it’s a constant battle we’ve got to take on.”
And Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight added a common phrase uttered when talking about law enforcement and the opioid crisis: “We’re not going to arrest our way out of addiction.”
“The governor’s legislation that he signed today gives us that authority to go ahead and get the dealers, and we can work with the addicts to get the addicts better, make them healthy and work on prevention,” Knight said.
The inspiration for the bill came from law enforcement, Steube said.
“The amount that you would have to have really goes after the dealers, not the people that are using on a daily basis,” he said.
But the work in Tallahassee isn’t done yet. Steube said a loophole with the Marchman Act, which provides for emergency assistance and temporary detention for individuals requiring substance abuse evaluation and treatment, is that it’s voluntary. If a person overdoses, is taken to the hospital and isn’t deemed a threat to themselves or others, Steube said they can walk away. He hopes a bill proposed next session will impose the Marchman Act involuntarily.
“I think that’s really the crux of the issue and I think that’s what would really change the people that are the habitual users, the people that are dying from this.”