Overdose deaths related to synthetic opiods like fentanyl increased 1002% nationally between 2011 and 2016, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Manatee County, overdose deaths from January through October of this year doubled compared to the same time period in 2018 - many of which are attributed to fentanyl, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the CDC, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the cause of an increasing number of overdose deaths in the United States. They accounted for 30% of total overdose deaths in 2016 and nearly 42% in 2017.
U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota) is citing Manatee’s numbers to support a federal bill that proposes economic penalties on foreign drug manufacturers that knowingly send synthetic opioids to drug traffickers and criminal operations.
The Congressman noted that fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin, but 50 times more powerful. These drugs are often manufactured in foreign countries and mailed into the United States.
Buchanan says about estimated 80% of pure fentanyl seized by U.S. officials in 2017 arrived from China.
“For too long, fentanyl and other opioids have continued to wreak havoc on communities in Florida and across the country,” said Buchanan in a news release. “We need to hold Beijing accountable for any lack of progress controlling the fentanyl freely flowing out of their country.”
Captain Todd Shear of the MCSO Special Investigations Division says the drug is being added to cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines – usually without people knowing.
"I think what they (dealers) try to do is distinguish their product from their competitor’s product and a lot of times they'll go ahead and lace it with something a little extra, something with some hotness to it, if you will, as what they say on the street,” Shear said.
There have been 601 overdoses and 61 deaths in Manatee County through October of this year. The Sheriff's Office says that's more than twice as many deaths as reported during the same period last year.
32% of those overdoses are from the same 70 people.
In Sarasota County, there have been 78 overdoses and 10 deaths through October - a 20% increase.
"It's definitely making the situation more complex,” Shear said. “Folks are overdosing that have never overdosed before in their lives, and in large part it’s because of the fentanyl being laced with these other drugs."
Shear said two county programs in particular – Operation Lifesaver and the substance abuse recovery pod at the Manatee County Jail – are part of their efforts to address the root causes of substance abuse.
“We will never arrest our way out of this problem,” Shear said. “Nor do we want to arrest away out of this problem. We want to make sure that the folks that are out there that are needing help get the help they need to get the treatment that they need.”
Operation Lifesaver sends a specially-trained deputy to individuals who have experienced multiple overdoses to help connect them with community resources and transportation.
The recovery pod is a 60-day in-house and voluntary program that Shear says has seen great success. Of the 1,685 people who come through it, they’ve only seen 80 return to jail.