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Florida governor signs law creating new penalties for exposing first responders to fentanyl

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Drug users and dealers who recklessly expose first responders to fentanyl and cause them to overdose will now face additional penalties thanks to a new law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis Monday.

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Body camera footage from August of last year, captured a Flagler County Sheriff’s Deputy suffering a suspected fentanyl overdose after handling narcotics that later tested positive for the substance.

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The incident is one of a growing number of incidents where first responders have exhibited signs of overdose after coming in contact with fentanyl, oftentimes resulting in the use of Narcan to reverse the symptoms.

“When law enforcement personnel are responding to these situations that fentanyl may be involved in, you know they really are putting themselves at risk,” said Governor Ron DeSantis during a Monday press conference.

Now, a newly signed Florida law will establish new penalties for drug users and dealers who recklessly expose first responders to fentanyl, causing them to overdose or suffer severe bodily injury.

“Traditionally law enforcement officers can see the threat. Right? They see it in front of them, but now they can’t see it, they can’t smell it. So, the message is, we want to have their backs,” said State Representative Jessica Baker (R-Jacksonville).

RELATE: New Florida bill proposes mandatory minimum sentences for exposing first responders to fentanyl

Baker sponsored the bill during the 2024 legislative session.

She explained the new law comes with the threat of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for offenders.

“Last year it came across our boarder, maybe 27,000 pounds of fentanyl, and that’s enough to kill the entire country. And that’s just in one year. So, this is a serious problem,” said Baker.

There is some debate in the medical community over the threat fentanyl poses for first responders.

The DEA and CDC both recommend first responders use personal protective equipment while handling narcotics, and that they recognize the signs of exposure and overdose.

READ: Florida Senate approves bill making it a crime to harass first responders

However, at least one study published in the NIH National Library of Medicine alleges risks to first responders due to fentanyl are near non-existent.

“Alleged “overdoses” have been cited as examples of the “nocebo effect,” where inaccurate beliefs about a drug generate negative somatic effects upon exposure,” wrote the authors of the study.

But Baker noted the enhanced penalties under Florida’s new law would only apply in cases where toxicology reports are able to confirm fentanyl was the cause of a first responder’s symptoms.

“And we want to send a message loud and clear that fentanyl is so inherently dangerous, that there are gonna be strong penalties if you choose to partake in that illegal activity,” said Baker.

The new law officially takes effect on October 1st of this year.

It also includes exceptions for people who call first responders in good faith to report an overdose.

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