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Drug Dealer Says "Business is Flourishing," No Comment from Sheriff on Fentanyl Crisis

HERNANDO – There isn't a city, town, or suburb that hasn't been affected by the fentanyl crisis plaguing our country. With approximately 10,000 immigrants crossing the U.S. southern border every day, there isn't much that can be done to stop the deadly flow of fentanyl into the U.S., so residents want to know what local officials are doing to help protect the community.

In 2022, Florida had over 5,083 drug overdose deaths, with 2,744 of those related to fentanyl. Data for Hernando County conducted by federal and state agencies is not complete but there are estimates that at least 60 people died from drug overdoses last year, and most of those were related to fentanyl. If this year follows the same trend, we could see over a hundred fentanyl-related deaths in Hernando County this year. Unfortunately, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office does not collect data on drug overdoses, so we were unable to provide an exact number of responses that led to injury or death.

Earlier this year, the Hernando Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) signed a resolution urging all state and federal elected officials to secure borders and provide protection against fentanyl entering the country. But what is local law enforcement doing to combat the problem?

I spoke with BOCC Chairman John Allocco who drafted the resolution and asked what more local elected officials can do to address the issue. Allocco said, "We can attack it on the individual level, on the local level, but in the end, it's not going to change the outcomes until we close the border." I pressed Allocco to comment on what actions local officials can do, beyond acknowledging the problem through a resolution. Allocco stated, "My biggest concern on the local level is that we're spending a ton of resources to basically wipe somebody's face while they're standing out in the middle of a rainstorm and we're ignoring the fact that we are in a rainstorm." Allocco says he will urge Sheriff Al Nienhuis to produce public service announcements on the dangers of fentanyl, but that he can't tell the Sheriff how to spend his budget. Allocco also took a jab at the school district stating, "They are more concerned about grooming our children to be 'alphabet kids,' than teaching them about the dangers of fentanyl."

Last month, a 17-year-old Spring Hill girl died after she ingested cocaine that was cut with fentanyl. Two people were charged with supplying her with the deadly dose, but their dealers have not been captured.

R News reached out to Sheriff Nienhuis to ask how he is confronting the crisis, but he has not responded to our numerous requests for comment. R News could not locate public statements from the agency on the growing presence of drug cartels in Hernando County or an educational PSA protecting our youth from accidental overdoses. Studies show that a large number of fentanyl overdoses are inadvertent because the user had purchased cocaine, or prescription drugs that were cut or tainted with fentanyl.

Commissioner Steve Champion echoed Allocco's concerns about closing the southern border and said, "Our local deputies are doing a great job, the best they can under the circumstances, but the Sheriff needs to come out and be more vocal about the issue like other Florida Sheriffs have."

Commissioners Brian Hawkins, Jerry Campbell, and Beth Narverud have not responded to our requests for comment on the growing crisis in Hernando County. They did, however, sign Chairman Allocco's resolution.

Former NYPD officer Joe Puglia says, "The Sheriff's budget has doubled in the last 8 years, and he's been given double-digit increases every year. Maybe he can use some of those funds to create public service announcements and educate the community on this major issue that's plaguing our community." Puglia says the Sheriff should use his strong relationship with the State Attorney and incorporate the federal system such as the U.S. Attorney in persuading low-level dealers that they are better off helping law enforcement go after the main supplier in exchange for shorter prison sentences. Puglia says Nienhuis needs to create a task force just like the JTTF or Joint Terrorism Task Force to take on the cartels. "Taking down small-time dealers alone is not going to solve the bigger problem or save lives in the long run," says Puglia.

An anonymous source who claims to deal in cocaine tells R News, "It has become incredibly dangerous to sell our product because you never know if the next batch is going to be cut with fentanyl. That's why we always test our product before selling it to anyone." He goes on to explain that many of his "clients" are mixing heroin with fentanyl because it gives them a more intense high. He strongly urges anyone who buys drugs off the street to purchase fentanyl test strips (FTS) and test them before using. FTS are available online and even in some local drug stores.

I asked the "dealer" how the product flows into Hernando County unnoticed and he said, "We just have it mailed to us through the post office or other carrier. It's impossible for them to catch even a fraction of the product coming in." He confirmed that the cartels are fully operational in Hernando County and said, "With there being essentially no border between the U.S. and Mexico, business is flourishing."

Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation earlier this year that would increase the minimum mandatory prison sentence to 15 years for dealers in possession of 14 to under 28 grams of fentanyl. For dealers in possession of over 28 grams, a dealer could face between 25 and 30 years behind bars.


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