New proposed bills target heroin dealers in FL

- Heroin use is an epidemic in Florida and officers with the Bradenton Police Department say they continue to get call after call for overdoses.

Police are looking to Florida lawmakers for help, and it could be on the way in the form of two new pieces of legislation. 

House Bill 477 and Senate Bill 150 would make it easier to prosecute drug dealers for selling heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Agencies across the state, including the Bradenton Police Department, support the bills, saying they will finally give them the proper tools to put dealers away and make a dent in the problem.

"You see families being destroyed with a lot of these overdoses and a lot of lives being lost," said Sgt.Shannon Seymour. "It really boils down to [whether] the other persons involved [are] willing to come forward and willing to do the right thing to stop these people from dying."

If the bills become law, agencies can file manslaughter charges against anyone who distributes heroin or fentanyl to someone who then dies of an overdose from the drugs. That could make a big difference in Manatee County, which is at the epicenter of Florida's heroin problem.

"If someone has more than a personal use. If they have a pound of fentanyl that can do a lot of damage; prior to these bills it's just a simple possession charge. Now we will have some hefty charges which will deter persons that are selling these," said Sgt.Seymour.

But not everyone believes this will work. Kyle Vaillancourt is a recovering addict who works with the Suncoast Harm Reduction Project. He knows what a life of addiction is like, and how dealers operate.

"It's a daily thing, if not an hourly thing," Vaillancourt said. "Even if one dealer is locked away, it's just another opportunity for another dealer."

He said criminal punishments will not open dealers or user's eyes.

"The way we need to progress is for drug treatment... there needs to be more funding and awareness, support," he said.

Everyone agrees, however, that something needs to be done. At least 122 people died from overdoses in Manatee County in 2015.

"It's been a very challenging problem for the whole community," said Sgt. Seymour 

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