PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Overdose deaths from fentanyl continue to plague Bay County. Now law enforcement is trying a new method to prevent the use of the deadly drug. 

Bay County Sheriff’s officials said almost 300 people overdosed from fentanyl last year. 30 people died after taking the opioid. The crisis is being felt across the state of Florida where about 6,000 people died from fentanyl use. Midway through this year, Sheriff Tommy Ford announced drug dealers will face more serious charges.

“We’re going to treat it like a homicide case because that’s what you’ve done,” Ford said. “Your actions have caused someone else to die.”

Ford said five people have been charged with manslaughter. Those charges could put suspects in prison for 15 years. 

Ford said a statute in Florida law allows law enforcement to charge drug dealers with manslaughter if the victim’s cause of death is the drug in their system. Defense attorney Waylon Graham said he expects the charges to hold up in court.

“We have a good group of judges, but they are all very firm and very stern when it comes to the criminal law,” Graham said. “And if someone gets convicted of this particular crime in our local courtrooms, they will be dealt with, I’m sure, in a very firm manner.”

This isn’t the first time law enforcement officers, when faced with a drug epidemic that was killing people, decided manslaughter was the appropriate charge. 

“I think the view of some people in authority is ‘if you want to kill yourself, go ahead, knock yourself out. But if you want to kill your neighbor or your friend by giving them that poison and they die, we’re coming after you.”‘