South Florida Spikes in Heroin, Fentanyl Overdose Deaths
Nationwide, medical examiners have been witness to a disturbing increase in fentanyl overdose deaths, as well as heroin and other opioids. Most recently, Florida has become among the hardest hit.
And according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the trend is even worse in South Florida. This includes Miami-Dade County, which reportedly has experienced a 100% jump in heroin deaths. ]
Other notable increases include more than 200% in Broward and over 400% in Palm Beach counties. Sarasota County led the state in heroin-related deaths from July 2014-June 2015. Other counties hit by heroin-related deaths were Collier, Hendry, Lee, and Glades.
By itself, Fentanyl overdose deaths were up over 300% in Miami-Dade, and 100% in Broward. Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid painkiller, which can be as much as 100 times the potency of morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. It is not commonly used for medical purposes, because it is so addictive and dangerous.
Miami-Dade toxicologists also report that at least 85 heroin and 102 fentanyl overdose deaths occurred last year. For heroin, the number Increased by 40% from 2014, but fentanyl deaths rose by an unbelievable 365%
Public health experts say that deaths from both drugs have spiked across the country since 2015, and are continuing into 2016. The crackdown on Oxycodone and other prescription opioids have been blamed for the increase in deaths – when users are cut off from their medication, they sometimes switch to street drugs such as heroin.
And fentanyl has also been seen on the streets, often passed off as mere heroin (or laced into it). But fentanyl has the potential to be lethal in small doses, and can be dangerous if even touched and absorbed through the skin. That’s how potent it is. Fentanyl-laced heroin can be an instantly deadly cocktail, as well.
What is being done
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. addressed the Florida opioid problem this past week. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Gainesville) is looking to expand treatment in Florida for 300,000 low-income persons if the state legislature will broaden eligibility for Medicaid via the Affordable Care Act.
Last fall, Chinese authorities banned the manufacture and export of fentanyl after pressure from the U.S. State Department and Justice Department.
In addition, a needle exchange program in Miami was approved by lawmakers in Florida this year. Scheduled to begin in July, the center will also educate users on the dangers of these drugs. It will also have Narcan available, which is the anti-overdose drug most often used to reverse the effects of overdoses, thus saving lives.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology