TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to add the drug fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic opioids to Florida’s drug trafficking statute, clearing the way for law enforcement and prosecutors to pursue stricter punishment against the sellers of the drugs, including felony murder charges in the case of an overdose death.
The bill is also expected to pass the Florida Senate.
“The ER sees it all the time,” said Dr. Parham Eftekhari, a nephrologist at Broward Health Medical Center. “So I think this is a step forward for the state to make it firm that this is a major problem.”
Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller — much more powerful than morphine — and synthetic versions of the opioid are mainly manufactured in China and have entered the US for the past few years and led to deaths and overdoses nationwide.
“It’s extremely dangerous,” said Justin Miller, Field Intelligence Manager for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Florida. “Two milligrams of fentanyl is lethal.”
Miller spoke at a discussion about fentanyl, heroin and other dangerous opioids at Florida Atlantic University on Thursday. He said the biggest concern is the unknown quality of these synthetic drugs.
“We have new drugs that we’ve never seen before,” Miller said. “We have drugs on the streets that our chemists have no idea what it is, well, they’ve never seen it, let’s put it that way. It’s a challenge for us.”
And it’s a challenge for the medical community as well as the makers of the drugs constantly alter the drug’s composition to skirt the law. The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office says over a 6 month period last year the drug carfentanil, a drug used to sedate elephants, killed at least 53 people in the county. Miller said just last month the Chinese government agreed to ban some of these substances.
“In March of this year they banned 4 fentanyl class substances, carfentanil being one of them,” Miller said, adding that a key piece of their strategy to reduce the prevalence of these drugs is to work with the countries where the drugs are coming from.
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Dr. Eftekhari believes people need to know that by taking these drugs they are playing Russian Roulette. He said people buying street level pills have no idea what’s in them.
“They wanted Xanax, they purchased from a new distributor,” he gives as an example. “They got a thinner pill, a smaller pill and that’s what led them to the emergency room and ultimately, death.”
The DEA says they are focused on trying to catch the drug dealers and those who sell these drugs to people who overdose and die in order to prosecute them. Miller said they also want to educate the public as much as possible about the dangers of these drugs in order to help them make good choices.
And just to underscore how dangerous fentanyl and carfentanil are — even first responders and law enforcement officers have to be careful not to inhale them or touch them because they can be deadly.