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Gov. Scott signs bill enacting stiffer penalties to fight Florida's opioid crisis

Posted at 5:57 AM, Jul 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 10:27:46-04

Governor Rick Scott hosted a ceremonial bill signing in West Palm Beach, targeting drug dealers that push opioids.

On Tuesday, he signed a new bill that hands down stiffer penalties to drug dealers distributing illegal doses of fentanyl. The media event took place at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

Starting this fall, judges will be forced to sentence people possessing 4 grams of fentanyl to three years in prison. If a person has 14 grams, they face 15 years in prison. Anyone with 28 grams gets a minimum 25 years in prison.

"Right now, we are still figuring out the right thing to do. There will be something every year right now until we figure out how to solve this," he said, with several PBSO deputies standing behind him. "I can tell you everybody standing up here, they're focused on how we can make this better. And I hope while I'm governor, we're able to find the answer to this. I know this community has just been devastated by it."

This tougher law is meant to criminalize traffickers of fentanyl and discourage distribution of the drug.

Also known as House Bill 477, the new law is great news for families who have lost loved ones to the drug.

For Peggy Hernandez of Wellington, it's a long time coming.

"I think this is the best thing that could happen to Florida," she said. "This is a terrible drug."

Her son Ty died last year at just 23-years-old from an opioid overdose.

"He was a great kid and fell to this demon of a drug," she said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to put Ty in rehab."

She's grateful the state will be supporting families like her own.

"Now, we're going to be able to prosecute the drug dealer," she said. "So many parents are putting their kids in rehab and taking them out of rehab and they're fighting this monster."

The law will also allow the state to charge drug dealers with murder if someone overdoses on an opioid they gave them.

"We have to keep working on this issue. I've had our state agencies go around and do workshops around the state to get ideas, I've talked to the President about it I've talked to the Vice President about it," said Governor Scott.

Dealers caught with even just 4 grams of fentanyl are forced to spend at least three years in prison.

Ty's dealer is in prison for 30 years for his death, the first case prosecuted in federal court. His case helped pave the way for the new law so that families can in Florida don't have to go to the federal court.

"Unfortunately, the drug dealers are still out there hooking them back up with the same drug and the drug is getting stronger and stronger every time. Then the next time you do it, it could be your last time," said Hernandez.

Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine and deadly when mixed with heroin. The synthetic drugs are potentially lethal just by touching and breathing them in.

In 2016 alone, almost 900 people in Florida were killed by overdosing on it, including Ty.

"Lock up the drug dealers. The addicts can get healthy the addicts can get off the drug," said Hernandez. "You are killing people, whether you want to believe it or not."

The new law takes effect October 1, 2017.