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Florida's death by distribution law: How it's helping stop overdoses at the source

Katie Golden was a senior at Plant High School before she died from a drug overdose. Her dealer now faces a murder charge.
Credit: mintra - stock.adobe.com
Overdose depiction

TAMPA, Fla. — Inside their Tampa condo, the Goldens take us inside Katie's room. She is their daughter.

“Katie was really sweet and super talented,” Katie's mom, Dawn Golden, said. “We all have her trophies. All her cheerleading hair bows.”

Katie was a senior at Plant High School. She was a cheerleader and loved art.

“She loved tie-dye,” Golden said. 

Dawn Golden says it’s these memories that help her get through the fact that Katie is no longer here. She died from a drug overdose.

“That was 5 years ago on April 1st. That was the last photo we took of her,” Golden said. 

Police say Garland Layton is the dealer who sold the drugs that killed Katie.

He is facing a first-degree murder charge for distributing heroin that caused her death.

“When I look at the crisis this country is facing, I’m glad we have this tool in our tool kit,” Hillsborough County State's Attorney Andrew Warren explained.

That tool is Florida’s death by distribution law, put in place during the war on drugs in the 1980s. People who deal certain drugs that cause death can be charged with murder.

In 2017, Governor Scott approved fentanyl to be added to the law.

“So were aggressively prosecuting dealers who bring this in our community,” Warren said.

But even so, many State's attorneys across Florida have only used this charge a handful of times since 2017. Warren has used it nine times. He says that is the most in the state.

We asked him why the number is so low compared to the record number of overdose deaths.

“These cases are hard for police to investigate. Sometimes there’s no witnesses or receipts or clear records where the drugs came from,” Warren said. “We filed about 90 percent of cases that law enforcement has brought to us.”

Golden believes it is important to go to the source of this ongoing epidemic. 

“If you stop the supply, you stop the problem. People are selling poison and its killing people. They don’t care,” Golden said.

She hopes more people are charged under this law and justice will be served for those dealing deadly drugs.

“We lost Katie. There’s nothing else that can hurt us any worse, so getting her justice is what we can do to make a difference, to make her life matter,” Golden said.

Garland Layton’s trial for Katie's murder starts May 10th.

The other 8 cases in Hillsborough County are currently pending.

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