SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- Governor Rick Scott gave law enforcement a new weapon in the war against the heroin/fentanyl epidemic and signed HB 477. The bill toughens penalties against anyone dealing fentanyl type drugs. It also means dealers can face murder charges if someone dies from drugs they sold.
Governor Scott says, "This is not an easy issue to fix…every family has to deal with it. My wife and I have raised daughters now have grandchildren always figuring out how they don't end up abusing drugs or alcohol. Law enforcement and we will continue to work on it every year."
The signing took place at the Sarasota County Emergency Operations Centers. Representatives from local law enforcement agencies and legislators attended the bill signing ceremony.
Governor Scott says the state set aside 1 billion dollars into mental health and drug rehabilitation resources and is in the process of deciding how to best use the money.
The governor says the state will continue to look at solutions.
The heroin epidemic has had some success stories. Jessica Zeilman is a recovering addict who has been able to break the cycle of addiction and rebuild her life.
Life with daughter Alexis is good now. The 8-year-old and her mom have been reunified but three years ago Jessica Zeilman’s life collapsed.
Jessica says, "I was using heroin. I overdosed twice.”
Jessica says serious injuries from a car accident led to a prescription addiction, domestic violence, and divorce. But while she overcame one addiction she found another in heroin.
““It’s easy to find here, and I was around people. It starts with drinking,” says Jessica. She adds, “It looks like a good place, but that place leads you to death and past it. And by the grace of God some people get brought back like I was.”
Kindness from strangers helped Jessica step out of the revolving door of addiction.
“I’m thankful Manatee Sheriff deputy helped me get the help I couldn’t see for myself or I could have died,” says Jessica.
At what point did she hit rock bottom? “I realized I wanted to kill myself,” recalls Jessica.
She knew she was ready to heal when she says, “I was done fighting. You have to get so sick of the fight the illness.”
“What freed her? “Jesus Christ!” says Jessica with a smile.
Jessica became a “Prodigal Daughter” when she joined the Christian drug treatment program it’s here where she found hope.
Jessica says, “I wake up loving every day. You have to get to the root of what causes why you do what you do to get it out that hurts but it’s very freeing when you do it. I know that will never be an option for me again. I don’t have a craving, I don’t have a want, I don’t have a need it’s not a struggle. “The only time I want to go back into that is to pull 5 people out with me.”
Jessica has successfully completed her 1-year long program. She's now training to become a full-time employee program and help other women.
Manatee Sheriff’s Rick Wells speaks about the heroin/fentanyl addiction in his county and how the new law will give law enforcement an edge.