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Legislature Passes Stiffer Penalties for Exposure of Fentanyl to Police

Fentanyl seized in Flagler County in 2021. ⓒ Flagler County Sheriff's Office

A bill increasing the penalties for exposing a law enforcement officer to fentanyl has been passed by the Florida state legislature, sending it to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk for a signature.

What’s in the Bill?

The policy would make it a second degree felony for the perpetrator if an officer is ‘recklessly’ exposed to the deadly narcotic in the line of duty and either overdoses or suffers other serious bodily injury.

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Also included in the bill is a provision barring the arrest or prosecution of a person who tries to help someone in the midst of an alcohol or drug overdose, further enabling Good Samaritans to assist if they encounter a cop or other individual in drug-related medical crisis.

SB 718, officially titled ‘Exposure of First Responders to Fentanyl and Fentanyl Analogs’, was filed by state Senator Jay Collins (R-Tampa) with state Senator Ed Hooper (R-Palm Harbor) co-introducing. It has passed each stage with wide bipartisan support, being approved by the state Senate unanimously and the state House of Representatives by a 100-12 margin. It was filed back in December, and is now only one step away from becoming a law.

Exposure or Anxiety?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends emergency responders always wear nitrile gloves when dealing with illicit drugs, and avoid contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth while doing so. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office reported in August 2023 that a deputy had been hospitalized after exposure to fentanyl during a traffic stop, and that a suspect had been arrested.

The National Institute of Health in 2021 published a paper disputing the risks of law enforcement officers from suffering medical crises from skin contact with fentanyl, saying that “[i]t perpetuates the stigma that people who use illicit opioids are inherently dangerous to encounter, that their bodies and belongings are poisonous”. They also alleged these concerns posed a negative effect on the officers: “[n]o less important, perpetuating the falsehood that officers could die from contact with a substance they routinely encounter in the field is profoundly stressful to officers”.

This position is also held by Dr. Lewis S. Nelson, a professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Psychological stress presenting as anxiety and, when taken as a whole, mass sociogenic illness, is most likely,” Nelson as reported by NJ Spotlight News. “This is often described as the nocebo effect in which the thought of an exposure causes the expected adverse effect, even if a substance is inactive. This is essentially the opposite of the more well-known placebo effect.”

Still, Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly was adamant at the time that Huzior’s symptoms were not psychological. “What happened yesterday is a perfect example of the dangers law enforcement face each and every day from poison on the streets,” he said.

Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

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