PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Thousands of spring breakers are expected to hit Florida beaches over the next few weeks.
Spring break shenanigans, wild parties and underage drinking are nothing new for officers across the Sunshine State, but the Panama City Beach (PCB) police chief says fentanyl is raising the risks.
“The spring break of today is not the spring break of 20, 30 years ago,” Chief J.R. Talamantez said. “Today’s spring break in a lot of ways brings a different level of violence.”
Talamantez’s department saw just that last year when officers made over 160 arrests in one spring break weekend.
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“Our city was just invaded by stupid people doing stupid things,” Talamantez said. “They came down specifically to try to victimize our community.”
With fentanyl showing up more often within the party drugs that dealers attempt to market to spring breakers, such as Adderall and Xanax, the PCB police department is ramping up its drug enforcement efforts.
“We’ve increased our K-9 programs,” Talamantez said. “We used to have four canines. Now we have eight because we see the importance of aggressively enforcing drug crimes.”
The PCB police department now has the largest K-9 unit in Florida’s panhandle.
In addition to K-9s, the police department is also using crime cameras to monitor “hot spots.”
“We utilized this method last year and had great success,” Talamantez said. “Like many departments, we are also struggling with a shortage of officers. This helps us with additional eyes.”
Talamantez says by watching the cameras, officers can tell when a beach crowd is about to get out of hand. “We can dispatch our officers before that 911 call,” he noted.
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All officers on PCB also carry Narcan, a nasal spray that can revive someone overdosing on an opioid, including fentanyl.
In central and south Florida, drug prevention groups, including the Florida Harm Reduction Collective (FLHRC) are handing out Narcan to beachgoers and business owners.
“We’ve seen the hotspots – Clearwater and St. Pete Beach are two of the hottest areas with some very scary overdose numbers,” said FLHRC Executive Director Shelby Meaders. “We need to be proactive about reaching individuals and getting Narcan out there into the hands of people who will use it to save a life.”
Drug prevention experts say the “spring break mindset” could easily lead students to try drugs they wouldn’t normally do.
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“The biggest concern around spring break is risky behavior,” said Denise Manassa with CDAC Behavioral Healthcare, a substance abuse prevention and education agency in northwest Florida. “There’s that mentality around spring break about wanting to have a good time, but spring breakers need to be aware that fentanyl kills. We want them to enjoy our beaches, but still go home to their families.”
Chief Talamantez also says if anybody dies of an overdose in Panama City Beach, their dealer will be charged with homicide.
“You come to this beach to commit crimes, you’re not going to be checking into your hotel,” Talamantez said. “You’re going to be checking into jail.”