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Heroin Popular, Deadly In Manatee County

In July 2015, emergency responders in Manatee County handled more than 200 heroin overdose calls. And the repeat overdose calls alone are nearly three times what the overall total was for July 2014.

Chief Stephen Krivjanik with Manatee County Public Safety Department’s EMS Division called July 2015’s numbers “overwhelming.”

"That includes -- and this really was shocking to me -- 35 repeat overdose cases just in the month of July,” Krivjanik said Thursday afternoon during Manatee Tiger Bay Club’s meeting in Bradenton. “So that means they overdosed, went around the corner and overdosed again. Got out and overdosed again. So that just illustrates the impact that this addiction has on these folks."

So far this year, 1,008 doses of Narcan (naloxone) have been administered by EMS, some to repeat overdose patients, he said.

Public safety officials say part of the problem is that heroin is now relatively inexpensive.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says heroin is selling for about $15 a dose, while prescription pain pills are going for about $20 to $25 on the street.

Heroin users who are debriefed by law enforcement say they’re seeking out heroin that’s being laced with opioids, according to Capt. Todd Shear with the sheriff’s special investigations division.

"Today what we're seeing is opiods and other things such as Fentanyl being placed in there,” Shear said. “And just to tell you a little more about Fentanyl, it's 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and it's 50 more times more potent than heroin. It's some serious, serious stuff -- really bad stuff -- and when you're mixing it with heroin, you can see where it's going to end up."

He said that's why many heroin overdoses in Manatee County have been deadly.

Emergency responders say 911 calls for heroin overdoses have jumped more than 1,500 percent since last summer.

Lottie Watts is a reporter and producer with WUSFin Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.