Report shows drug deaths rising, could hinder mandatory minimum bill

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
November 16, 2017

(Image Credit: David Pacey / CC BY 2.0 / MGN)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- A new report from Florida's medical examiners shows drug related deaths jumped 22 percent between 2015 and 2016. The findings may hinder efforts to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges.

Opioids played a factor in 5,725 deaths last year, a 35 percent increase over the 4,242 Floridians who died the year before with opioids in their system. The state's medical examiners say deaths directly caused by fentanyl almost doubled.

Mark Fontaine, executive director for the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, says the numbers are shocking.

"16 people a day die this way," Fontaine said. "And indications are it's going to jump to 20 a day."

This year, three bills have been filed to give judges the option of reducing mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes. The idea was introduced last session and sparked heated debate before ultimately being thrown out.

Supporters are hoping the idea will gain traction, but after the release of the latest medical examiners' report, lawmakers who were already opposed are doubling down.

"Who knows, those numbers may have been higher," said Senator Kelli Stargel. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get some of these traffickers off the street."

"I wouldn't at all be in favor of reducing minimum mandatories for the dealers and traffickers," said Representative Jim Boyd.

Senator Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the most extreme of the mandatory minimum reduction bills. He says the latest statistics only reaffirm his position.

"When you keep trying to incarcerate our way to less deaths, what we're going to see is most likely the opposite," he explained.

The effect of major opioid legislation passed this spring is still a work in progress. Whether it cuts deaths won't be known until next November, when there will be a new report from the medical examiners.

The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association hasn’t taken an official position on the mandatory minimum reduction bills, but it does agree a more treatment based approach needs to be adopted by the state when it comes to dealing with addicts.

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