Persistent concerns about panhandling in Pasco County were a major topic of discussion on Tuesday afternoon at a town hall meeting featuring U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, state Sen. Wilton Simpson and Sheriff Chris Nocco.
About 40 people attended the 90-minute town hall meeting held at the Beacon Woods Civic Center in Hudson.
“They’re getting aggressive out there,” Nocco said to one participant who complained about increased panhandling in Hudson, a concern that she said appears to be drug-related.
“In these camps we’re starting to see Spice all over the ground,” he added, referring to the name given to a synthetic drug which appears to be overwhelming law enforcement throughout the Tampa Bay area. Nocco said his department was waiting for a new anti-panhandling ordinance being introduced by County Commissioner Mike Wells so he could take more direct action.
Nocco said part of the problem was the environment with absentee landlords leaving properties abandoned, allowing illicit activities to take place.
He said that while the drug of choice now may be Spice, it’s simply replacing needle-injected drugs, which preceded the prescription painkiller epidemic in the Sunshine State. He said the best place for those with infections from using needles to get medical treatment was the county jail.
“The real way we’re going to win this war on drugs is to stop addiction,” he said, adding that law enforcement has to be smarter in dealing with the problem working with the medical field.
Trilby-based Simpson boasted about the bill (SB 1528) he worked with Attorney General Pam Bondi on that authorizes the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and Department of Business and Professional Regulation to suspend business licenses over drug violations, adds new drugs to the list of contraband substances, and increases criminal penalties for trading synthetic drugs.
“What was happening is, various degrees of Spice, they could change one chemical or one compound and be something completely different,” Simpson said. “And then you’d have to go back to the Attorney General and say that this is going to be on the emergency list.”
Bilirakis said that Michael Botticelli, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, will be coming to Pasco County to discuss the issue on May 3.