JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville state lawmaker is hoping to hold fentanyl dealers and users accountable if their drugs cause harm to first responders and her newly filed bill comes with stiff mandatory minimum sentences.
Tense body cam footage released by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office captured the reaction of a deputy after testing a substance found on a suspect back in August.
“I just got really lightheaded,” said Deputy Nick Huzior in the footage.
Suspecting an accidental overdose, the deputy’s partner administered Narcan, an overdose reversal drug.
Minutes later EMS arrived and took Deputy Huzior to the hospital for treatment.
The drugs he had handled later tested positive for fentanyl according to the sheriff’s office.
In response to incidents like the one in Flagler, State Representative Jessica Baker (R-Jacksonville) has filed a bill for the 2024 Florida Legislative Session that would create new penalties for those who cause incidents like the one in Flagler.
If a person possesses fentanyl and causes harm to a first responder by exposing them to the substance they’d get a minimum of 15 years in prison.
If the first responder dies, the mandatory minimum doubles to 30 years.
TJ Ward with Project Opioid Jax said he supports the measure and argued it would send a strong message to those pushing the dangerous substance.
“I think it’s appropriate legislation to protect our first responders and you know, their jobs are tough enough as it is. They’re laying their lives on the line every single day for those members of the community. So, I think the least we can do is try to protect them when it comes to an issue like this,” said Ward.
But a 2018 study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice found exposure to fentanyl poses little risk to first responders when proper safety precautions like gloves, masks, and overdose reversal drugs like Narcan are utilized.
Mike McCormick with the Florida Poison Information Center explained there’s also a lack of evidence supporting the idea fentanyl can cause an overdose simply by touching it with your skin.
“There’s not a lot of evidence. Really, I’ve never seen a documented case where somebody by just touching fentanyl in and alone itself has led to major injury,” said McCormick.
Still, Ward argued the new penalties created by the bill would be another tool in the toolbox in the fight to stop the opioid epidemic.
“Anything we can do to help reduce the overdose deaths that have been occurring, you know, we’re all for,” said Ward.
The CDC and DEA have both published guidance for law enforcement and first responders laying out safety precautions that should be utilized by people who may have to handle illicit substances like fentanyl.
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