NewsPalm Beach CountyRegion C Palm Beach County


Critics say charging fentanyl dealers with murder could backfire

Posted at 5:38 PM, Aug 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-30 05:55:50-04

A drug more deadly than heroin now has a law enforcement antidote.

“You cannot discuss the opioid epidemic without discussing fentanyl,” said State Attorney Dave Aronberg. “Four grams of fentanyl can kill more than 1,000 people. We are talking about mass murder here.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than heroin. Another synthetic opioid, carfentanil, is even more deadly: 10,000 times more powerful than heroin.

Last week, Sheriff Ken Mascara of St. Lucie County charged a woman with attempted murder for dealing a near-deadly dose of illegal narcotics.

This new bill (nicknamed the fentanyl-trafficking bill) goes into effect on Oct. 1, and will make it easier for Florida law enforcement like Mascara to charge drug dealers with murder when they deal the deadliest drug of all: synthetic opioids.

Statistics prove just how deadly synthetic opioids are. In Florida, more than 800 people died from them in the first six months of the year.

“It is the same as giving the person a loaded gun,” said Aronberg. “This stuff is killing people at a record rate and it needs to be stopped.”

However, critics say this law is not a silver bullet.

“We believe that the war on drugs has been a colossal failure,” said Michael Collins with the Drug Policy Alliance based out of Washington, D.C. Collins and his colleagues believe so-called drug-induced homicide laws – like the "fentanyl trafficking bill" in Florida – put the wrong people behind bars.

“It isn’t the kingpins that will end up being arrested,” Collins told Contact 5 Investigative reporter Merris Badcock via Skype. “Often it is going to be the small-time, local seller someone who is selling to fund their own addiction.”

Aronberg disagrees the law targets addicts. “What is the alternative? To let them go? To send them into treatment? We are talking about business men, not addicts. We are talking about drug dealers, not users here.”

At least 20 states, including Florida, have some type of drug-induced homicide law aimed at putting dealers behind bars.

“We want to make sure that we are not repeating the mistakes of the past, and all of these policies originated at the height of the War on Drugs in the 1980s,” said Collins. “That has not helped with reducing overdoses. It is time to for a new strategy.”

Instead of incarceration, the Drug Policy Alliance advocates for a number of different public health policies, like getting overdose-reversing drugs like naloxone into the hands of drug users.

“The metric isn’t how many kilos of heroin have we seized or how many drug dealers have we put in prison, the metric should be are we preventing deaths? Are we reducing overdose rates? Because that is the real catastrophe in this country,” said Collins.

But with fentanyl killing 287 people in Palm Beach County last year, Aronberg said it is time to throw the book at synthetic opioid dealers.

“I’ve talked to too many grieving families who have lost a loved one to this epidemic,” Aronberg told Contact 5. “To tell them, ‘We have identified the person who killed your child and there is nothing we can do about it,’ is not an answer. It is not a solution.”


Map shows states with drug-induced homicide laws

Click here if the map doesn't display correctly



Graphic shows fentanyl overdose deaths in Palm Beach County

Click here if the graphic doesn't display correctly