First responders fight against fentanyl; push for stronger laws

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Emma Heaton
Published: Updated:

Fentanyl’s grip on Southwest Florida is tightening, with frequent arrests and heartbreaking losses for families, but the threat extends beyond users, impacting law enforcement and first responders.

Collier County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Robert Palmer experienced this firsthand during a domestic-related call.

Palmer lost consciousness after exposure to fentanyl, requiring two doses of Narcan to save him.

In response, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office launched the “Laced & Lethal” campaign to raise awareness about fentanyl’s dangers.

Moreover, there’s a strong push for legislation (SB 718: Exposures of First Responders to Fentanyl and Fentanyl Analogs) to impose tougher penalties on adults who expose first responders to fentanyl.

Palmer testified before a state senate committee, advocating for a bill that would charge such individuals with a second-degree felony.

“My scene wasn’t anything that had to do with drugs,” said Palmer. “It was a domestic disturbance that came through dispatch, and next thing you know, I’m falling out from an overdose from fentanyl.”

The bill, if passed, would charge adults who unlawfully possess and “recklessly” expose first responders to fentanyl.


“This is invisible,” said Palmer. “We have no way to see. We have no way to react to this until, God forbid, we get exposed to this and symptoms set in.”

The bill would protect law enforcement officers like Palmer and first responders who risk their lives to protect others.

However, the legislation would prohibit “the arrest, charging, prosecution, or penalizing under specified provisions of law of a person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing, or believed to be experiencing, an alcohol-related or a drug-related overdose, etc.”

Critics argue the bill would punish addicts.

The bill passed through the Senate and is making its rounds through House committees.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released its latest numbers in a Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Highlights from Heroin, Fentanyl, and Other Opioid Offenses in Federal Courts, 2021

  • From fiscal year 2020 to 2021, the number of drug arrests the DEA made for fentanyl increased by 36%, from 2,305 to 3,138.
  • The number of arrests the DEA made for fentanyl (3,138) surpassed those for heroin (2,591).
  • Of the 28,224 total drug arrests by the DEA in 2021, 11% were for fentanyl, 9% were for heroin, and 2% were for other opioids.
  • Most persons sentenced for drug offenses involving heroin (89%) or fentanyl (87%) had a prior criminal history.

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