PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida saw 7,231 drug overdoses in 2020. Overdoses of drugs laced with fentanyl are on the rise. And it prompted Sen. Rick Scott (R) to introduce new legislation to address it.
Surrounded by roughly a dozen Tampa Bay police chiefs and sheriffs, the U.S. senator announced the "End Fentanyl Package Act."
"Just in the last year, 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in this country," Scott explained. "Something like 70% of them were tied to fentanyl."
There are four parts to the End Fentanyl Package Act — all of which are geared toward preventing, reducing, and collecting data on opioid-related cases:
- Allow healthcare providers to prescribe overdose-reversal drugs, like Narcan.
- Allow the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to issue grants to local governments to improve data collection on opioid-related overdoses.
- Allow the Department of Justice to issue grants to law enforcement agencies and communities with high rates of drug overdoses to better trace criminals, train officers to identify overdoses, and upgrade essential systems for tracing drugs and processing samples in forensic laboratories.
- Push for the director of the office of national drug control policy to be elevated to a cabinet member position.
The sheriffs and chiefs present shared just how big an impact opioid overdoses have had in our area.
"Here in Pinellas County between 2020 and 2022, our seizures of fentanyl have tripled," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. "So there's a lot of it out there... Since 2019 here in Pinellas County, about 1,300 people have died from opioid deaths."
Gualtieri said in that same time, there were over 8,000 Narcan administrations by Pinellas County deputies or by EMS in the county.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister shared a recent case his office worked in which a baby nearly died from an overdose.
"The mom had some meth laced with fentanyl-laced that the baby happened to touch when she was left unattended," Chronister said. "And it was that quick touch that sent that baby into an unresponsive state."
Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter said the data has only increased in recent years.
"When you look at the data in the form of a bar graph, I describe it to my staff as a very unfortunate, steep stairway to heaven," Slaughter said. "From 2019 to the present, the deaths are three times what they've been before."
Florida was recently ranked No. 1 in the nation for overdose deaths in a synthetic psychedelic drug called Eutylone.
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Law enforcement officials say it's always something new.
"If it's not one thing, it's another," Gualtieri said. "It's almost a game of whack-a-mole... At its core, the problem here is an addiction problem, until we do more to deal with the addiction problem, which deals with the demand, you're going to have people wreaking havoc and preying on these people, the addicts."
Scott also introduced a bill similarly named the 'End Fentanyl Act' which is currently in the Senate committee.
The bill would require customers and border patrol to update their policies once every three years to ensure drug intervention guidelines are up to date.