DeSantis signs bill raising penalties for illegal opioid sellers, distributors

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the new law would save many lives

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that increases penalties for those who illegally sell and distribute opioids in Florida. It expands on a statewide strategy launched in 2019 to combat the opioid epidemic through education, treatment, prevention, recovery and law enforcement efforts.

“Floridians of all walks of life have witnessed the destruction caused by the opioid epidemic across our state,” DeSantis said. “While the Biden administration has failed to stop the flow of dangerous drugs, including fentanyl, across our southern border, we are taking action in Florida to lower both the demand and the supply of illicit and illegal drugs.”

The bill includes recommendations made by members of the Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse created in 2019, including adding methamphetamine to the list of specified controlled substances. The substances on the list, if they cause the death of a person, can subject the seller and distributor to be prosecuted and convicted for first-degree felony murder.

The new law also increases the mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking fentanyl from 3 to 7 years for 4-14 grams, and from 15 to 20 years for 14-28 grams.

It also enhances the penalties for selling controlled substances within 1,000 feet of substance abuse treatment facilities.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the new law would save many lives. Last year, 116 Polk County residents died from a small amount of fentanyl, he said.

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma agreed, saying that Florida was approaching the opioid epidemic from all angles. “You cannot address this problem without holding the drug dealers accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

A parent of a 23-year-old son who died from ingesting fentanyl, Mike Itani, said while many people might think those overdosing from drugs are junkies, “they are everyday normal people just like us.” He said his son “was a normal kid, involved in sports, nothing abnormal.

“I truly believe that if you are intentionally giving somebody something that you know is going to kill them, it is a murder,” he added. “Hopefully this will help other families in the future and get some of these guys off the street.”

On National Fentanyl Awareness Day on May 10, Attorney General Ashley Moody called on the Biden administration to take action to stop the deadly flow of fentanyl coming through the southern border.

“The shocking increase in the number of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl should concern everyone, especially President Biden, who continues to ignore federal immigration laws – paving the way for these dangerous drugs to flood into our country," Moody said. "Nobody should use illicit drugs. Not only are they illegal, but they can be lethal.”

Moody also is urging Floridians not to take any pills not prescribed by a doctor, warning, “just one laced pill can kill.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more deadly than morphine, is the leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 45. More people in this age group are dying from fentanyl than from suicide, vehicle accidents, gun violence and the coronavirus, national data show.

Moody also created, which includes preventative information about opioid abuse and drug addiction.