DeSantis Signs Bill to Provide Fentanyl Protections to First Responders

May 2, 2024 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

Two new pieces of Florida legislation have been signed into law this week. SB 718 and SB 66 are both related to drug crimes, specifically those including the presence of fentanyl. Based on the findings by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, along with reports from law enforcement agencies, emergency medical employees and police agents who respond to calls of fentanyl possession and are then exposed to the drug can face similar physical experiences to a fentanyl overdose.

Due to these claims, the new bills add increased penalties for a person whose possession of fentanyl allegedly causes an injury or overdose. However, some medical experts are claiming that encounters with fentanyl or fentanyl mixtures should not be so strong as to cause an overdose. However, the legal changes remain, now making it a second-degree felony.

This page will cover the details of both SB 718 and SB 66, along with the varying responses and opinions on fentanyl exposure.

What is SB 718?

Titled “Exposures of First Responders to Fentanyl and Fentanyl Analogs,” SB 718 creates criminal penalties for individuals who, in the course of unlawfully possessing fentanyl or a fentanyl-analog, exposes the substance to first responders in a reckless manner that causes serous bodily injury or the death of the first responder. 

SB 718 creates the new Florida Statute Section 893.132 to provide the following definitions:

  • “Expose” or “exposure” means to cause ingestion, inhalation, needlestick injury, or the absorption through the skin or mucous membranes;
  • “First responder” means a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, a correctional probation officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, or a paramedic, who is acting in their official capacity;
  • “Recklessly” means a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others;
  • “Overdose or serious bodily injury” means drug toxicity or a physical condition that creates a substantial risk of death or substantial loss or impairment of any bodily member or organ; and
  • “Dangerous fentanyl or fentanyl analog” means any controlled substance described in 893.135(1)(c)4.a.(I) – (VII).

Any person who is 18 or older who reckless exposes dangerous fentanyl or fentanyl analogs to a first responder while in the course of unlawfully possessing such substance(s) and in doing so, causes the first responder to overdose or experience serious bodily injury faces a second-degree felony. If convicted, a second-degree felony carries up to the following penalties:

  • Up to $10,000 in fines; and
  • Up to 15 years in prison.

Additionally, subsections (1) and (2) of Florida Statute Section 893.21 are amended to state the following:

  1. “A person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing, or believed to be experiencing, an alcohol-related or drug-related overdose may not be arrested, charged, prosecuted, or penalized for a violation [regarding fentanyl or fentanyl analogues] if the evidence for such offense was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance;” and
  2. “A person who experiences or has good faith belief that he or she is experiencing, an alcohol-related or drug-related overdose and is in need of medical assistance may not be arrested, charged, prosecuted, or penalized for a violation [regarding fentanyl or fentanyl analogues] if the evidence for such offense was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.”

Since SB 718 has been signed by Gov. DeSantis, these measures will go into effect starting October 1, 2024.

What is SB 66?

In addition to the laws created and amended under SB 718, DeSantis also signed SB 66 to designate June 6 as “Revive Awareness Day”.

This legislation was supported by the Victoria’s Voice Foundation, established by Jackie and David Siegel after their daughter’s untimely death from an accident drug overdose in 2015.

Under the new Florida Statute Section 683.3342, the act cited as “Victoria’s Law” provides that the Department of Health is “encouraged to hold events to raise awareness of the dangers of opioid overdose and the availability and safe use of opioid antagonists as an effective way to rapidly reverse the effects of opioid overdose.”

Expansion to Florida’s CORE Program

In August 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new pilot program for substance abuse and recovery in Florida. Referred to as the Coordinated Opioid Recovery (CORE), the program was the first of its kind in the U.S. After a successful two-year run in Palm Beach County, the program was piloted in 12 Florida counties.

With CORE, individuals who are struggling with addiction can use the program to receive medical assisted treatment as well as stabilization. The CORE program was coordinated by the Department of Health, Department of Children and Families, and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

According to Florida Health’s site, CORE “expands every aspect of the overdose response and treats all primary and secondary impacts of substance use disorder.” They provide a graphic that list the steps in the program:

  1. Overdose or near overdose;
  2. Emergency response and care navigation;
  3. Bypassing other hospitals;
  4. Transportation to specialty subject matter hospital (similar to a trauma center);
  5. Focus on sustainable clinical pathway and system of care;
  6. Transfer to sustained multi-specialty medical group;
  7. Start medication assisted treatment; and
  8. Stabilize patient.

From DeSantis’ press release on April 8, 2024, he also announced an expansion to CORE, with its network growing from 12 counties up to 29 counties. The new counties include Bay, Broward, Collier, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Leon, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okaloosa, Orange, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, and St. Lucie counties.

The following is a statement from Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris:

“CORE’s holistic approach to combatting the opioid epidemic has resulted in unprecedented results for Floridians battling addiction. Florida is grateful for the Governor and First Lady’s innovative leadership, and the Department looks forward to continuing to work with partners and key stakeholders to support families on their path to recovery and resiliency.”

Data and Arguments on First Responders and Fentanyl Overdose in Florida

DeSantis announced that there were more than 2,000 fatal overdoses from fentanyl in 2022. One year after CORE’s inception, DeSantis’ team claimed that Florida saw the highest decrease in drug-related deaths, with overdose deaths dropping by 4% from 2021 to 2022.

“So, this is nasty stuff, and you have situations where when law enforcement personnel are responding to these situations that fentanyl may be involved in, they are really putting themselves at risk,” DeSantis said while signing SB 718.

However, there has been some speculation and challenge over whether fentanyl exposure can really be fatal to medical or law enforcement responders.

A local report from Tavares showed a video of a police officer allegedly experiencing an overdose from fentanyl exposure. She claimed it felt choking and “drifting in and out of consciousness.” After being administered Narcan three times and being rushed to the emergency room, the officer was expected to make a full recovery.

Less than a week after the video went viral, some doctors joined the conversation to give insight into the incident, debating whether a brief exposure to fentanyl can cause those specific symptoms along with potential death.

Medical toxicologist Dr. Ryan Marino expressed his sympathy with the officer who experienced the medical emergency, but following with the statement, “my concern is that the footage does not show anything consistent with an opioid overdose.” Dr. Marino added that the symptoms reported by the officer would be the opposite of a fentanyl overdose.

The following statement is provided by Dr. Marino:

“The biggest problem, though, is saying that she was exposed either through touch or through inhalation. I think both theories have been put forth, whether this was something that she came into direct contact with, or they were saying that it was very windy and could have been blown into her system. Those are just not ways that you can overdose on fentanyl. Fentanyl doesn’t work like that. It’s only a risk to people who are using drugs and that is injecting, snorting, or taking something by mouth.”

In a 2022 article published by CNN, they claimed that news organizations who were continuing to publish reports without any possible scrutiny “are fueling a stigma about the second-hand dangers of the drug, potentially harming or delaying help for those in need of immediate assistance and creating a feedback loop for anxious first responders.”

Emergency responder Dr. Leana Wen had a similar argument to Dr. Marino, claiming that it is “extremely unlikely” that a first responder would overdose “after a brief, unintentional exposure while caring for individuals who used opioids.” Dr. Wen further addressed how opioids like fentanyl “are not well-absorbed through the skin except through prolonged exposure.” Out of a biowarfare situation, opioids would not be able to be “aerosolized and inhaled through the air.”

“Reports involving first responders who sought medical care following exposure did not find opioids in their system,” Dr. Wen said. “Much of the time, their symptoms were consistent with panic attacks (i.e. shortness of breath manifesting as gasping for breath-versus opioid overdose results in loss of consciousness that then depresses respiration.”

After the challenges made by Dr. Marino, the Taveres Police Department responded to the WESH 2 local report by asserting they not only back the officer alleged to have experienced a fentanyl overdose, but they also claim that it is not a unique experience. One argument the police department made was that “studies completed years ago do not accurately reflect the strength and risk of current street-level fentanyl.”

Drug Crime Defense Lawyers in Tallahassee, FL

Despite the valid argument over whether brief fentanyl exposure can cause an overdose, the new legal changes made through SB 718 can still result in harsh felony offense penalties if you are charged and convicted of a fentanyl-related crime. If you or someone you know has been accused of a drug crime involving the presence of fentanyl, you should seek legal representation immediately. Due to the dangers posed by fentanyl, law enforcement will not take any suspected possession of this substance or a substance-mixture containing the deadly product. Since there is still more research going into the effects of fentanyl, a defense attorney may recommend using a forensic toxicology expert witness to help defend your case.

To avoid the harsh penalties that come with a Florida drug conviction, consider hiring the defense team with Pumphrey Law Firm to represent your case. We can provide you with a free consultation to go over the details surrounding the incident that led to your arrest and determine what defense strategies may apply. Contact our legal office in Tallahassee at (850) 681-7777 or leave a message on our website.

Back to Top