The Seminole County Opioid Task Force met with community leaders on Friday, Aug. 25 to share information about the impact of opioids on the local community and discuss the county’s plans to combat the growing epidemic.
Law enforcement, doctors, public officials, medical examiners and addiction treatment providers attended the event, which was held at the Seminole County Emergency Operations Center.
A major focus of the meeting was the increase in seizures of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl in Seminole County.
According to Steve Collins, director of the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Central Florida officials seized three ounces of fentanyl in 2015. They seized 12 pounds of fentanyl in 2016, an increase of more than 6,000 percent. Collins says most fentanyl in Central Florida is smuggled into the United States from China.
He also discussed the benefits of a new law enforcement tool that allows officers to map the location of overdoses and better track the distribution of substances that are causing overdoses.
The software, which is based on a program that was used to track down the shooters behind the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, gives officers real-time information about overdose locations and allows multiple law enforcement entities to collaborate and share information.
“It’s an instantaneous mapping by EMS personnel when they’re on the scene of an overdose,” Collins told DrugRehab.com.
He said the tool allows law enforcement and health analysts to track the location of overdoses, identify potential spikes in overdoses and predict areas where more overdoses will likely occur.
The program also helps law enforcement coordinate and act when officers discover that a batch of heroin has been laced with fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue. A growing number of opioid overdoses in the United States involve heroin that is mixed with a more powerful synthetic opioid such as fentanyl.
Collins says that 45 counties across the country are already using the program, and other Central Florida counties are discussing how to implement it into their law enforcement departments.
Dr. Josef Thundiyil of Orlando Health joined the task force to give a presentation on the opioid epidemic’s effects on area hospitals.
“We are really in the biggest public health epidemic in the history of the United States,” Thundiyil told the task force. “We’re seeing almost 100 Americans die per day — that’s a lot — from heroin- and opiate-related overdoses.”
Thundiyil, who works in emergency medicine, says that when he started practicing medicine in Central Florida 20 years ago, he could count the number of heroin overdose patients he would see in a year on one hand. He says today he could see that same number in one shift.
He agreed that fentanyl as well as heroin laced with fentanyl and other opioids are the driving force for the increase in overdoses in Central Florida. Unfortunately, that trend continues to rise.
The Seminole County Medical Examiner reported 52 opioid-related deaths in Seminole County in 2015, with 12 deaths linked to fentanyl. In 2016, nearly half of the county’s 60 opioid-related deaths involved the drug.
Debbie Owens, executive director of the Seminole County Prevention Coalition, spoke about the various initiatives the county is using to prevent the spread of opioid and drug abuse.
She said that Seminole County has not experienced the severity of drug abuse that other Florida counties have reported because of the efforts of county law enforcement entities.
“I can’t say enough about our law enforcement in Seminole County,” Owens told the task force. “The reason we don’t have the issues that other counties have is that [Seminole County officers] already do the prevention. They don’t wait until something happens before they figure out something to do.”
Owens highlighted other efforts such as the Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education Task Force’s campaign for high school students, which provides information about drugs and what to do in the event of an overdose.
She encouraged those in attendance at the meeting to use the information presented to them and share it with anyone they could in the community.
“The importance is the sharing of the information,” said Owens. “Anyone in this room that was paying attention today, you’re now a resource.”
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