Drug Summit Addresses Heroin Abuse, E-Cigarettes

Feb 17, 2016
Originally published on February 17, 2016 10:52 am

Law enforcement officers, medical professionals and drug educators met Tuesday in Tampa as part of a three-day drug summit to discuss drug trends, policies and solutions to drug abuse.

Heroin abuse and e-cigarettes were popular topics.

Last year, Florida lawmakers approved a bill that allows non-medical professionals to administer Naxolone, also known by its commercial name Narcan, which reverses the effects of a heroin overdose.

Law enforcement officers at the 4th Annual Drug Summit said they’re still hesitant to use this potentially life-saving procedure, despite the fact that it’s been around since the 1970s for use by emergency medical personnel.

Sharon Kelley, a former Tampa Police officer, is now the executive director of the Alliance for Global Narcotics Training. She said lawmakers need to pass more laws to guard those who administer the antidote.

"I think law enforcement and first responders would feel more comfortable if they felt like they had good, clear protection,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the laws so far don't clearly say how law enforcement can detain overdose victims after they're revived by the drug. Also, some officers fear being sued.

Heroin abuse has spiked in recent years. Law enforcement officials attribute it to the crackdown of pill mills, forcing users to seek cheap alternatives on the street.

Another drug bill is making its way through the Florida House.

Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, recently proposed a bill that would amend Florida's Clean Indoor Air Act.

If passed, it would make it illegal to smoke e-cigarettes indoor in places like restaurants, bars and malls.

"My understanding is that it would classify e-cigarettes and vapor devices in the same way we classify cigarettes for indoor use,” said Andy Duran, the director of a Chicago area anti-drug group called LEAD – Linking Efforts Against Drugs. “So, for example, just like now you can't go into a bar or restaurant and have a cigarette, you also won't be able to do that if the legislation goes through with an e-cigarette either."

He helped pass a similar bill in Illinois last year.

Indoor tobacco smoking was banned in Florida in 2002 as an amendment to Florida's Clean Indoor Air Act, which was passed in 1985. HB 1143 would revise the definition of "smoking" to include nicotine dispensing devices, like e-cigarettes.

The sale of electronic cigarettes to minors was banned in Florida in 2014. 

--Daylina Miller is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.