As Florida’s opioid crisis worsens, concern over new drug laws rises
The Florida Medical Examiner Commission’s 2016 Interim Drugs in Deceased Persons Report has identified fentanyl as the drug responsible for the highest number of overdose deaths in the state during the first six months of 2016. The report, released in May 2017, presents the most recent and accurate summary of Florida’s lethal opioid crisis. The first half of 2016 saw 704 deaths due to fentanyl overdoses, which is nearly the same as the total number of fentanyl overdose deaths during 2015.
Heroin caused 406 deaths during the first six months of 2016, compared to 320 overdose deaths during the corresponding period in 2015. Palm Beach County has been most impacted by two drugs during this period – there were 96 heroin overdose deaths and 156 fentanyl overdose deaths, representing nearly 25 percent and 20 percent of statewide heroin and fentanyl deaths, respectively. The surge in usage of these drugs is being blamed on over-prescription and abuse of opioid painkillers.
Two new Florida bills, if enacted, will lead to tough measures against people addicted to drugs, including new mandatory minimum prison sentences and significant financial penalties. Health care activists and drug-reform advocates are deeply concerned that instead of imposing fines on pharmaceutical companies for pushing painkillers such as OxyContin or providing greater access to treatment, the legislations will make the situation worse for addicted individuals.
Florida’s past experience with similar laws failed to control the epidemic
House Bill 477 (HB 477) and Senate Bill 150 (SB 150), combination bills tabled in Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, stipulate harsh provisions for drug offenders. As per the provisions of the bills, fentanyl, carfentanil and other synthetic opioid drugs have been added to the list of Schedule I controlled substances. One of the most controversial provisions states that dealers will face manslaughter charges if the distribution of drugs containing heroin and/or fentanyl results in overdose or deaths. The bills also stipulate that anyone possessing four grams or more of fentanyl will be labeled a “fentanyl trafficker”. The offense carries a mandatory prison term of three years which goes up to 15 years for holding 14 grams of fentanyl and 25 years for holding 28 grams. It would also attract mandatory fines.
For several decades, similar laws demanding mandatory minimum jail terms and fines have been in force in Florida for possession and trafficking of various drugs. These legislations have resulted in the arrest of low-level offenders and people from minority communities, while usage of drugs such as heroin continued to escalate. Drug-reform advocates have repeatedly cautioned that minimum-mandatory laws harm drug-addicted individuals since their mental state inhibits them from making rational choices or comprehending that their actions may be illegal. Dealers, on the other hand, have been able to get away lightly.
On the contrary, Florida’s legislators insist that the bills are necessary to prevent dealers from peddling fentanyl and other drugs on the streets. The new bills provide for very small mandatory-minimum fentanyl amounts which will make even low-level users eligible for prison terms and fines. The problem will become worse if users are caught with drugs which they are not even aware of, such as fentanyl pressed into counterfeit pills, as a result of the new rules recommending penalties and jail terms for fentanyl mixtures.
Controlling Florida’s opioid epidemic
Drug-reform advocates contend that a vast amount of money is expended on imprisoning drug dealers, whereas additional funding needs to be directed towards prevention of addiction among users and offering treatment. Florida legislators need to take initiatives to provide relief to drug users in the form of improved mental health care and assistance. In fact, an outcry has prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency which mandates a $54 million federal grant over two years for prevention, treatment and recovery-support services.
If you or your loved one is suffering from addiction to drugs, seek assistance from the 24/7 Drug Addiction Helpline at the earliest before it gets late. You can call our 24/7 helpline number 866-403–5607 to get instant help for drug abuse or chat with our online representatives to know about some evidence-based inpatient drug abuse treatment centers.