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Apr 20, 6:16 PM EDT

Florida bill gets tougher on drug trafficking offenses



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- As Florida tackles an uptick in opioid overdoses, lawmakers passed a measure Thursday that seeks to toughen state drug trafficking laws.

House Bill 477, approved unanimously by the Florida House, puts fentanyl and other synthetic drugs at the same level with heroin in the state's drug trafficking statute. It would also include first-degree murder charges for drug dealers in cases where the buyer dies from an overdose.

"We want to send a clear message to drug dealers in Florida, and that is that the Florida House is standing strong and we will not tolerate the way you prey on the weak," said Republican Rep. Jim Boyd, the primary sponsor of the bill.

The bill's passage comes a week after Gov. Rick Scott directed three state organizations to hold a series of workshops in the counties plagued most by opioid abuse. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, fentanyl-related deaths increased by 115 percent between 2013 and 2014. To battle this problem, the state has also reached an agreement with pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost for a spray that helps revive people experiencing an overdose.

Under the House bill, possession of 10 grams or more of certain synthetic drugs would become a felony, which is expected to increase the state prison inmate population.

The Florida House has also passed a bill to fight opioid addiction by placing new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers. Under this bill, pharmacies would have to report the dispensing of a controlled substance to a state database daily, rather than weekly.

The Florida Legislature is also taking on a bill that creates a certification program for sober homes to weed out deceptive advertising.

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