Thank you, Mayor and Board of County Commissioners, for allowing me to speak to item #17: a resolution regarding HB 477. Sometimes it seems like our voices aren’t represented in government, like we can’t effect change in existing laws or affect policies. I hope that isn’t the case today.
Comprehensive examinations of the failed war on drugs are available in the public domain, so I won’t repeat all the data regarding the enormous impact on mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects minorities and poor, the massive economic costs and burden to taxpayers, or adding to the 1.6 million Floridians who currently cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement—a resolution this Commission unanimously voted to restore last month.
Adding “certain synthetic opioid substitute compounds to the list of Schedule I controlled substances” and establishing mandatory “minimum terms of imprisonment” fail to address the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis and devote resources to treatment programs and addiction services. Our Chief Medical Examiner has estimated that over 1,000 people in Broward County will likely die from opioids this year. Introducing and voting in the affirmative for this resolution may communicate that the answer to drug-related death is stricter sentencing. This sends the wrong message to the Florida Legislature and the Governor that drug addiction is better viewed as a crime rather than a disease. I think most of us agree that fentanyl and other synthetic opioid substitute compounds present a serious threat to individuals, families, and communities, but studies show that mandatory minimums tend to hurt addicts more than deter trafficking.
What we need are sentencing reform and criminal justice reform that helps individuals dealing with the destructive effects of these drugs, while providing medical and rehabilitative treatment alternatives. HB 477 sensibly allows emergency responders and others to administer opioid antagonists and recognizes the danger of fentanyl, carfentanil, and other synthetic opioids, but continues a long history of stricter sentencing and scheduling-related responses to a public health problem—a response that is responsible for disproportionately hurting minorities and those suffering from addiction. For these reasons, I ask our Mayor and Board of County Commissioners to vote in the negative on this resolution.
Thank you for your time.