Two Florida lawmakers have responded to the opioid epidemic with bills that would increase sentences for selling fentanyl and require hospitals to provide additional care for overdose victims.
The bills are the first introduced in the Florida Legislature’s 2017 addressing the opioid epidemic. The session begins on March 7.
HB 61, filed by Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie, requires hospitals to screen overdose patients to determine the need for additional services and prohibits hospitals from discharging overdose patients to a detox or drug treatment center until the patient is stable.
The attending physician must also attempt to contact the overdose patient’s primary care physician or any other treatment providers who prescribed a controlled substance to the patient within the last year and inform them of the overdose.
If the patient is currently in a treatment program, the hospital’s attending physician must also inform the medical director at the treatment center about the overdose.
The hospital must also inform an overdose patient’s family or emergency contact about the overdose, the drug the attending physician believes may have caused the overdose and provide them with a list of drug treatment providers. Information about how to take legal action to protect an addict under Florida’s Marchman and Baker acts must also be provided.
Finally, the bill bars police and prosecutors from filing criminal charges for drug possession against overdose victims when the drugs are discovered during emergency, life-saving efforts.
SB 150, introduced by Sen. Greg Steube, R, Sarasota on December 12, makes selling, buying or manufacturing at least 4 grams of fentanyl a first-degree felony. Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller used to sedate surgical patients and relieve chronic pain. It is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
In The Palm Beach Post’s Nov. 20 analysis of 216 people who died in 2015 from heroin-related overdoses, fentanyl was found in 42 percent of the cases.
Steube, whose district covers communities particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic, is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Local lawmakers, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, have said they, too, will file bills based on the recommendations of the Sober Home Task Force.
During the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers gave $275,000 to Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg to investigate corruption in the drug treatment industry and propose new laws and regulations and tweaks to existing ones.
The Sober Home Task Force has made nine arrests since Aronberg launched it on July 1. A three-month-long grand jury investigation revealed widespread patient brokering and insurance fraud and recommended changes to laws and regulations.
Aronberg, a former state senator, said he would travel to Tallahassee to urge lawmakers to incorporate the recommendations of the grand jury in their bills and to lobby for additional money for treatment and regulatory oversight.