No one questions the severity of the opioid drug crisis in the United States. No one doubts the grave dangers of fentanyl use. But some lawmakers in Florida have pulled together to do something about it. And for the many who have suffered loss due to addiction, it’s not a moment too soon.
In June 2017, the Sunshine State officially put charges of murder on the table for Florida fentanyl sellers.
Handling of Florida Fentanyl Distributors Comes with Controversy
A new Florida law, known as HB 477, changes the way opioid drug sellers will be judged and dealt with. For nearly the past decade, there was a shift on the federal level in how drug dealers were sentenced, with a push for more treatment, especially for lower-level crimes, instead of incarceration in our prisons.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott looked at the growing opioid addiction, overdoses and death numbers in his state and said, “No more,” and the new law was passed. But does HB 477 draw a line or cross it?
An Eye for an Eye in Florida
HB 477 does not break down any difference between pure fentanyl and synthetic versions of the drug. Fentanyl is a white, crystal-like powder. Before distribution as an illegal street drug, fentanyl is mixed with lookalike substances including baby powder, antihistamines or powdered sugar, as a means to spread the drug over a wider net to increase profits.
Fentanyl is also used as an additive in other drugs and deceptively represented and sold as other opioids – OxyContin or heroin.
Now that you know where fentanyl can be found, here’s how HB 477 will lay down the law in response:
- Anyone found responsible for selling illegally purchased fentanyl or certain other opioids that are the proven cause of death to a buyer will face first-degree murder charges.
- Anyone possessing a tiny amount of fentanyl (even in other drugs) is subject to the same law.
- A first-degree murder charge in Florida means death by lethal injection or the electric chair, or life without parole is on the table.
- Punishment for possession of fentanyl (not leading to death of another) results in:
- 4 to 14 grams = At least 3 years prison and $50,000 fine
- 14 to 28 grams = At least 5 years prison and $100,000 fine
- 28 or more grams = At least 25 years prison and $500,000 fine
To understand more about how the new law in Florida came about, read more here.
Does the Fear of Death Penalty Change the Will of Florida Drug Sellers?
Most large-scale fentanyl dealers do not use the drug themselves. Drug distribution is a business to them and all that matters are the profits made. So will the new law deter their career choice? Their distribution channels are deep and layered, insulating them well from incarceration.
For the small-time seller, things may be different. If they use opioids themselves, they need the drug but are willing to part with some of it to turn a profit and, in turn, purchase more. They could also cut the drug with other powder-like material to make it go farther. This practice puts the most vulnerable people, those with opioid addiction, heavier into harm’s way. How would they know what they’re getting? They won’t. They can’t.
And if low-level drug dealers use as well, why would they fear capital punishment? In a way, isn’t that what opioid addiction, left untreated, is – a death sentence?
So if small-time drug dealers are the ones most affected by HB 477, will imprisonment help minimize their impact? Would they, and society, be better served by mandatory treatment instead? Will this truly reduce the drug trade in America?
The True Weight of Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Not everyone favors tougher sentencing. The former U.S. federal administration imposed the opposite, removing mandatory minimum sentences to allow judges the liberty of reviewing cases on an individual basis, pushing treatment programs, and lowering the prison population. Crime numbers were reduced (except for gun-related charges and homicides). But are these numbers skewed?
Does ‘Just Say No’ Say Enough?
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan impacted generations with her Just Say No anti-drug campaign. But was it enough? And if it was used today, would it even make a dent?
The drug war has changed since then, reaching farther and faster than ever before. Canada is feeling the effects of fentanyl use too as the lines between our borders blur through tragedy. What may have worked before to educate and prevent drug abuse won’t scratch the surface now. People, drug chemistry and the business behind drugs have gotten too sophisticated.
The very nature of drug addiction will override the fear of death as a user physically needs the substance to avoid the pain of withdrawal and survive. And for those addicted to heroin or other opioids, the threat of unwanted fentanyl in their stash isn’t enough to get them to stop.
This is why it’s so important to keep a line of communication going with anyone you know using these substances, leaving the door open to intervention and a plan for treatment and recovery.
Case Study: Portugal Intervention Puts People First
In the 1990s, Portugal was facing a serious heroin problem. In fact, 1 percent of its people were addicted to it. But their approach to dealers and users was vastly different and it led the way to healing a country.
Drug dealers were sent to prison to serve their term according to law. But for users caught with less than a 10-day amount of their illegal drug of choice, their sentence was mandatory drug treatment. They did not appear before a judge or jury. They never spent a day in jail.
The result? Drug-related deaths have dropped to five times less than they were at the start of the program.
Florida Fentanyl Sellers Are Murderers – Here’s How to Save a Life
“Fentanyl, which is used legally by medical professionals as a painkiller, is approximately 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and 25 to 40 times more potent than heroin.” – U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
If you are noticing the signs of opioid addiction in yourself or someone you care about, there is help available. Talk to someone. Know that there are places out there that can treat drug dependency quickly and effectively, putting recovery in focus and within reach.
Fear about fentanyl is real. Now that you know more about it, doing nothing is even scarier.