Florida Sen. Rick Scott, sheriffs discuss fentanyl crisis during roundtable in Daytona Beach

Florida senator on statewide ‘Make Washington Work Tour’

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and several Florida sheriffs on Thursday discussed the fentanyl crisis and other issues at a roundtable in Daytona Beach.

The senator’s heading for that discussion focused almost entirely on the U.S.-Mexico border, tying stateside opioid overdoses to illegal drug-trafficking migrants that he claimed are afforded such ease in their crossing that Scott illustrated the process, in part, by snapping his fingers.

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“If you can get into Mexico, you just walk across the border. They will ask you where you want to go, they’ll figure out how to get you there. If you want to fly on a commercial flight, they’ll give you a ICE arrest warrant and you can find the commercial flight an hour later. Soon as you can get to the airport, you can fly anywhere you want in this country, makes real sense,” Scott said.

Scott squarely laid the blame for a “completely open” border on Congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden.

“You know, candidly, we’ve never had a secure border. I mean, 50 years ago, this country was devastated with black tar heroin coming across. We’ve never had a secure border, but when you combine total freedom and an invitation at the border with a president that has not even gone down — we’ll see if he goes next week, but hasn’t gone down — you know, take politics out. The first step in making things better is to identify you have a problem,” Scott said.

The event, part of Scott’s statewide “Make Washington Work Tour,” was held at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office training center.

As far as a goal for the forum, Scott said his was to “do whatever we can together to solve the problem,” hearing from sheriffs Mike Chitwood of Volusia County, Dennis Lemma of Seminole, Rick Staly of Flagler and representatives of the Volusia Recovery Alliance.

The sheriffs talked about what the opioid crisis looked like local to them, with Lemma discussing what results have come from H.B. 95, a Florida law that increased penalties for trafficking in fentanyl and methamphetamine.

“In Seminole County, we’ve made now nearly 40 cases of first-degree murder for drug dealers dealing deadly doses of fentanyl. That strategy that we’ve implemented here in the state of Florida should be a national model, and I’ve had conversations with DEA Administrator Anne Milgram about it, I’ve got a meeting with (Alejandro) Mayorkas later this month about it,” Lemma said. “Some side is going to say we’re not doing anything and we’re passive with it and the other side is saying, ‘Look, we want to help.’ We need to come together as a country and say, absent politics, our citizens are dying, let’s do something to move this ball forward.”

Chitwood added to Lemma’s rhetoric, stating fentanyl-related deaths impact the whole country and more attention should thus be given to them.

“It’s not a Florida issue, it’s a national issue,” Chitwood said.

Among Scott’s ideas, though it concerned a different border, was to extend the waters that the U.S. Coast Guard is allowed to interdict ships in, pushing it from 12 to 24 miles out.

Otherwise, Scott said he was working on a variety of bills to address illegal border crossings.

The senator discussed his “No” vote on a $1.7 trillion spending bill that passed both chambers of Congress anyway and became law last week, pushing his Stop Fentanyl Package Act — proposed in August — as a better option for using such dollars to tackle opioid overdoses at the source.

“So I’ve got a bill on that, got a bill that would allocate the dollars better to help y’all (sheriffs) and different outside groups, that’s called the Stop Fentanyl Package Act. We’ve spent a lot of money, there’s a lot of money that the federal government has allocated, they’re just not allocated to do the right things. You know, this omnibus bill, there’s money in there for for border security, but not to secure the border, OK? It was to process people faster,” Scott said.

In December, Scott also filed the End Fentanyl Act, which would require the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to update the agency’s policies at least once every three years to ensure operational field manuals, including their drug interdiction guidance, is up to date. A 2019 Government Accountability Office report found that drug interdiction guidance has not been updated in 20 years.

“For too long, the crushing heartbreak felt from losing a loved one to a drug overdose, and the opioids that cause them, have plagued American families,” Scott said last year in a statement. “This epidemic, fueled by the massive amounts of fentanyl flowing illegally over our southern border into our communities, has only grown worse. Every life taken by an accidental drug poisoning is a preventable tragedy and we must do everything in our power to stop them.”

After the roundtable, Scott spoke more to what he considered a lack of national outrage over opioid overdose deaths.

“I got seven grandkids, (if) one of my grandkids die from fentanyl overdose, I would be pissed, I would be mad as hell that border wasn’t secured and this happened, and guess what? 70,000 people are in that position over the last 12 months,” Scott said. “We ought to get the resources where they need to go, so that’s part of my goal is to find out and so when they come up with ideas on when there’s a funding source, I want to make sure I know where that is so I can make sure that continues.”

Watch the roundtable again in the video player below:


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About the Authors:

Daniel started with WKMG-TV in 2000 and became the digital content manager in 2009. When he's not working on ClickOrlando.com, Daniel likes to head to the beach or find a sporting event nearby.

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.