Heroin & Fentanyl Lead Drastic Increase in Florida Drug Deaths

The number of people who died in Florida after consuming heroin or fentanyl doubled in the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2014, according to a new state report. In total, 570 more people died drug-related deaths in the first six months of 2015 than the first six months of 2014, a 13.9 percent increase.

The recently released 2015 Medical Examiners Commission interim report analyzed data from the first six months of 2015 and compared it to data from the first six months of 2014.

Key findings included:

  • At least one prescription drug was present in 2,548 deaths, an increase of 261.
  • Heroin was present in 343 deaths, an increase of 178.
  • Fentanyl was present in 397 deaths, an increase of 196.

Dr. Tim Huckaby, the Medical Director of the Orlando Recovery Center, said a drastic increase in the purity of street heroin has led to the increase in deaths.

“In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the average street purity was almost always below 40 percent, usually in the 20 to 30 percent range,” Huckaby said. “It was not mixed with fentanyl. The street purity today is usually in excess of 60 percent, frequently in excess of 75 percent.”

Deaths involving heroin and fentanyl have become a growing problem in communities across Florida. The number of morphine deaths also grew by 24.1 percent, but the report cautioned that the numbers may be skewed because heroin is quickly metabolized into morphine in the body.

The increase in heroin overdoses is part of a nationwide epidemic. The number of national heroin overdoses quadrupled from 2002 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also reported that the number of law enforcement confiscations of fentanyl across the country increased almost seven times between 2012 and 2014.

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Huckaby said heroin and fentanyl are being mixed, and users purchasing the drug on the street usually don’t know the potency of the drugs they’re buying.

“Heroin is two to three times more potent than morphine, but fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine,” Huckaby said. “Now you have a powerful, potentially lethal mixture.”

Heroin and Fentanyl Deaths Increase in South Florida

Several South Florida counties experienced large increases in deaths related to heroin and fentanyl during the first half of 2015.

When compared to the first six months of 2014, the number of heroin-related deaths increased:

The number of fentanyl-related deaths grew:

  • 310 percent in Miami-Dade County.
  • 100 percent in Broward County.

The number of fentanyl-related deaths dropped eight percent in Palm Beach County, the county that led the state in fentanyl-related deaths in 2014.

Heroin and Fentanyl Deaths Increase in Central Florida

The Orange and Osceola County Medical Examiner District led all counties in Florida with 37 deaths related to heroin in the first half of 2014. It had the second-most fentanyl-related deaths during the same time frame.

Multiple Central Florida medical examiner districts comprise more than one county.

The number of heroin-related deaths increased:

There was no increase in heroin- or fentanyl-related deaths in Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties.

However, the number of fentanyl-related deaths grew:

  • 42 percent in Orange and Osceola counties.
  • 114 percent in Hillsborough County.
  • 266 percent in Brevard County.
  • 1,050 percent in DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Huckaby urges people who use the drugs to seek treatment before it is too late.

“Do whatever it takes to get them help because they are going to die,” he said. “That is what these drugs do. These drugs destroy lives and leave in their wake a trail of carnage.”

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