While other states are working to reduce mandatory minimum sentences, Florida has just imposed additional mandatory minimums for the possession of fentanyl, an opioid that is fifty times more powerful than heroin. The new law lobbied and praised by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, aims to punish those in possession of the synthetic drug with a significant sentence — at least three years in prison for possessing four grams.
Like many other states, Florida is suffering an opioid crisis. Despite mandatory minimums for heroin, there have recently been record numbers of heroin deaths; now, hundreds are also overdosing from fentanyl each year. Doctors legally prescribe fentanyl, a powerful painkiller for cancer and chronic pain patients. Often, these patients develop a dependence on the drug after they complete their treatment.
Will New Mandatory Minimums Curb Statewide Fentanyl Abuse?
It is no understatement to declare that fentanyl has had a devastating effect on Florida communities. In 2015, 911 people overdosed on the powerful substance. According to Pam Bondi, fentanyl addicts acquire the drugs that are ravaging our communities on the black market. Lawmakers wish to hold drug dealers and traffickers more accountable for the deaths associated with fentanyl and are hoping that the new law will deter criminal activity. Unfortunately, there is no evidence from past mandatory minimum legislation that these laws work to reduce crime or deaths.
Mandatory minimum sentences were widely imposed throughout the late 80s to early 90s in what is collectively known as the “tough on crime” years. Back then, these laws targeted users of crack cocaine, who were mostly low-income people of color. Politicians passed strict drug laws without consulting experts who could provide insight on their possible long-term effects. Once again, when crafting mandatory minimum laws for fentanyl, not one lawmaker spoke with medical experts or members of the DEA, suggesting more may be necessary to combat the root of the issue.
Opponents of the measure are concerned that the laws will hurt users struggling with addiction. Mandatory minimums may dissuade people from seeking emergency medical care in the midst of an overdose, as low-level drug offenders hesitate to call 911 for fear of facing these harsh terms. Additionally, drug dealers are often addicts themselves, who are easily replaceable in the chain of distribution. In essence, these laws don’t affect those who are more complicit in getting black market drugs in the hands of addicts. Mandatory minimums also remove discretion from the hands of judges, who cannot base a sentence on what they believe is fair considering the circumstances of the crime.
Politicians on both sides of the issue recognize the need for addicts to receive treatment rather than punishment. Attorney Pam Bondi considers addicts victims who need help and support. She believes that securing long-term treatment for addicts is an important step that will follow the new legislation.
The unauthorized possession of prescription opioids can lead to severe penalties in Florida. If you are convicted, you can face a grim future behind bars. For over 30 years, attorney Brian Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel has defended felony drug crimes throughout Palm Beach County with many favorable results. Call 561-622-5575 for a free consultation or contact us online.