State, Federal Lawmakers Tackle Heroin



The Gulf Coast remains the epicenter of a statewide heroin epidemic, according to state and federal lawmakers representing the region, but new changes in the law could curtail the trafficking of a major ingredient in the trade at the same time new federal dollars have been directed for Florida to deal with the crisis. 

US Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced last week that an additional $6 million would be directed to 14 counties, including Sarasota and Manatee, to help fight the spread of drug use. Gov. Rick Scott will decide how much of that money gets distributed, and Buchanan says he has been in talks with the governor’s office to ensure much of that comes to the Bradenton-Sarasota area. He’d like much of that funding to be spent on prevention. “I don’t want someone going in that door in the first place,” Buchanan says. “I’m hopeful and an optimist, but the bottom line is, once people go through the door of drug use, one thing leads to another.” Buchanan would like funding spent to reach young children, maybe as young as second or third grade, about the dangers posed by heroin. 

Bradenton has become known as an epicenter of heroin use in Florida, and the community saw the highest numbers of per capita deaths in Florida last year related to fentynol, a drug that can shipped here directly from China and gets used with heroin. Buchanan has sponsored the STOP Act to authorize postal workers to screen for the substance and stop it from being shipped through the mail.

State lawmakers have put special effort this year into combating the transport of heroin, authorizing postal authorities. State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, at a recent legislative update said passage of a controlled substance bill this year that reclassifies fentynol and other opioids as Schedule 1 and strengthens penalties for trafficking such narcotics. The bill was passed unanimously by the state House before also winning passage in the Senate.

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, says his office was struck by stories of how easy it was to ship fentynol. “You can go online and order fentynol to be delivered by UPS to your front door,” Steube says. He noted the drug, which can become airborne, holds such potency law enforcement officers have reportedly overdosed simply being in rooms where substantial amounts of the drug are poured out of containers. When the new legislation goes into effect in October, law enforcement should be able to better track the drug and intercept it before it gets in the hands of dealers and users.

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