Florida medical examiners have recorded a sharp increase in deaths related to opioid overdoses, especially in South Florida.
The Miami Herald reports that medical examiners throughout Florida reported the spike in overdose deaths from heroin and the synthetic narcotic fentanyl in the first six months of 2015, the latest data available.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report says the trend is worse in South Florida. Miami-Dade saw a 100-percent jump in heroin deaths, and increases were nearly 210 percent in Broward and 425 percent in Palm Beach counties.
Fentanyl deaths were up 310 percent in Miami-Dade and 100 percent in Broward.
Public health experts told the Herald deaths from both drugs have skyrocketed nationwide, and that the trends have continued through the end of 2015 into 2016.
Officials attribute some of the spike in deaths in South Florida to users shifting to heroin and fentanyl after a crackdown on Oxycodone.
Fentanyl, which can be 50 times stronger than heroin, is a prescription drug, but street varieties from China and Mexico are flooding communities.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a statement Friday that fentanyl is another dangerous face of the illegal narcotics trade.
"It is a controlled substance that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and can be lethal, even in very small doses," he said.
Authorities say fentanyl is being mixed with heroin in illegal street sales, creating a deadly cocktail.
The steep spike in deaths has led to Miami's first needle exchange program, scheduled to begin in July. A goal will be to educate drug users about the dangers of the powerful drugs as well as diseases like HIV and hepatitis that can occur from sharing needles.