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'Someone dealing fentanyl is murdering people': Gov. DeSantis signs bill increasing penalties

An estimated 1,540 people died of opioid overdoses in the Tampa Bay region in 2020.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Thursday that increases the minimum mandatory sentences for trafficking in fentanyl from three years to seven years, with the penalty climbing to at least 20 years when dealing in greater amounts.

CS/HB 95 on controlled substances also makes it a felony of first-degree murder if the distribution of methamphetamine results in a person's death. If the sale of a controlled substance is committed within 1,000 feet of a substance abuse treatment facility, the penalties are increased there, as well.

The changes come following recommendations from the Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse, which DeSantis established in April 2019, to address the ever-evolving opioid epidemic, the governor said during a news conference at a Lakeland fire station.

Fentanyl is an extremely strong synthetic opioid created to treat pain, but the drug bought on the streets has the potential to kill in an instant.

"We're going to do all we can to decrease the prevalence of fentanyl in Florida and that means if you're dealing fentanyl, you are killing people, and you're going to be put in jail," DeSantis said.

The governor, with local Sheriffs Grady Judd and Dennis Lemma of Polk and Seminole counties nearby, stressed that outreach and substance abuse programs are necessary — but added that the state is taking a harder approach when it comes to the dealers.

Earlier in the day, First Lady Casey DeSantis spoke at a school in Kissimmee to talk about drug abuse. 

"We’re committed to tackling this problem from all angles and striving for a drug free Florida," she said in a statement, in part.

RELATED: Help is here: Local resources for those battling substance use disorders

According to the data collected by LIVE Tampa Bay, the region has some of the highest rates of opioid overdoses in the country.  An estimated 1,540 people died of opioid overdoses in the Tampa Bay region in 2020 – more than four people each day on average – a 49.6-percent increase since 2019. 

That's higher than the state and national averages, 10 Tampa Bay recently learned in its Overdosed series.

"Governor, when we have these pieces of legislation — and you agree to sign them into law — you, personally, are saving the lives of untold hundreds or thousands of people across the state, and we appreciate it," Judd said.

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