Undercover fentanyl bust yields 15 arrests in Sarasota

- A day after Rick Scott visited Sarasota to highlight a crackdown on drug traffickers, police announced 15 arrests from a June drug bust.

The 15 suspects -- aged 19 to 62, averaging 39 prior charges each -- are accused of selling or having drugs on the streets of Sarasota.

The suspects were caught in an undercover bust. They face 18 charges and have a collective history of 269 felonies and 317 misdemeanors, or 586 total charges.

Some were charged with selling near schools, parks, churches and public housing.

"We have families losing loved ones who are addicts," said Capt. Corinne Stannish. "It is a problem that is larger than just what law enforcement alone can handle."

The June arrests highlight a constant challenge. More than 730 people in Sarasota County have overdosed on fentanyl this year; 64 of them have died.

Gov. Rick Scott was in Sarasota Tuesday to highlight new mandatory minimum sentences and allow murder charges for those who sell to someone who dies.

"I am going to work with the legislature, and we will have more proposed next year," he said.

PJ Brooks, who runs a drug rehab in Sarasota, insists that these kinds of reform only go so far in slowing the revolving prison door.

"There needs to be a much more coordinated effort to ensure individuals have access to the treatment they need," said Brooks. "I am not just talking about medication-assisted treatment, though that's important, many need long-term residential care."

He says there is an overall shortage of beds for those who need them. In 2015, his facility, First Step, has seen fentanyl displace prescription drugs as the illegal drug of choice.

"Law enforcement has clearly recognized they are not able to arrest their way out of this problem," said Brooks.

In the next year, Brooks expects fentanyl deaths to overtake the highest number of deaths they saw with prescription drugs.

Editor's note: This story initially cited incorrect statistics about the number of fentanyl deaths this year. This version of the story has been corrected.

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