Gov. Rick Scott joined local law enforcement and legislative officials Thursday to ceremonially sign a bill that brings stiffer penalties for dealers of synthetic opioid drugs and fentanyl.
The bill cuts through the bureaucracy and allows state officials to immediately draw more than $27 million in federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid State Targeted Response Grant, awarded to Florida April 21.
Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican state Rep. Sam Killebrew, participated in the ceremonial signing at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
“The opioid crisis is affecting younger people every day,” Miller said. “Teenagers are now stumbling into a culture of drug addiction.”
Miller said the bill (HB 477) ensures that dealers of opioids and fentanyl will be charged with murder if someone dies from drugs they sold.
“This is the most damning public safety crisis in Central Florida,” said Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks, Florida Depatment of Law Enforcement special agent in charge. “This has affected more families than any other violent crime we’ve ever seen.”
The governor spoke about his brother’s struggle with drug addiction. One of five children, Scott said his mother fought valiantly to help her son.
“It impacted my family my entire life,” Scott said. “Up until the day she (Scott’s mother) died, it was the issue she struggled with most.”
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that his department has seen a 137 percent increase in heroin overdoses between January and June of this year, compared to 2016. The number of deaths during that same period jumped 127 percent to 25 this year.
The sheriff said that the purchase of Naloxone, an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses, has saved 88 lives this year.
The Florida Department of Children and Families has been awarded a federal grant of $375,000 to equip local law enforcement agencies with Nalozone.
Westgate Resorts founder David Siegel, who lost his18-year-old daughter Victoria to a heroin overdose in 2015, attended the signing and showed a nasal inhaler version of Naloxone that first responders wear in a pouch on their uniforms. Siegel pushed legislators to pass a bill allowing Nalozone to be purchased over the counter for $150 for a pack of two. Local law enforcement agencies can buy the two packs for $96.
“This is my daughter’s legacy,” Siegel said. “If 160 sailors were killed in North Korea, we would be at war. How many more lives have to be lost? This is an epidemic that kills 160 people nationwide a day.”
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said his officers put their lives at risk dealing with criminals but the drug epidemic has been tough. He said three first responders were taken to the hospital last weekend after experiencing breathing problems during a drug arrest involving fentanyl. All three were released the same day.