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Heroin deaths rise in Central Florida

Experts: Drug now more potent

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ORLANDO, Fla. – The number of people dying from heroin-related overdoses hit double digit increases in one year in many parts of Central Florida, authorities said.

[WEB EXTRA: Drug counselor discusses heroin ODs]

The drug's resurgence hits close to home for Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

"Not many people know but my family (that) I had a brother who died as a result of a drug addiction," Demings told Local 6's Louis Bolden.  "He, too, was a heroin addict."

The sheriff revealed that his brother, Joseph Demings, 50, died of a heroin overdose in in 1999 when the sheriff was chief of the Orlando Police Department.

"One of the reasons I went into law enforcement 34 years ago was because I saw the tragedy.  I saw the heartbreak that my family experienced," he said.

Sixteen years later, one of Demings' biggest battle's on the street is heroin.

From 20013 to 2014, the number of people who died from heroin-related overdoses increased in almost every county in Central Florida.

The biggest increase was in Orange and Osceola counties, where deaths jumped 84 percent, from 49 to 90.

Some are dying in secrecy.

Local 6 pulled dozens of autopsy reports and approached three different families about an interview.  They refused because the rest of the family didn't know their loved one had actually died from a heroin overdose.

"It's scary.  It's actually scary," Shannon Robinson said.

Robinson is the vice president of medical development at Aspire Health Partners. She said more than 70 percent of the people they currently counsel were prescription drug addicts who transitioned to heroin. 

"The individuals who have an opiates dependency, they will transition to whatever drug is available and that would be heroin," she said.

Robinson said heroin is much cheaper and now easier to get than prescription drugs.  Demings isn't ready to say the crackdown on "pill mills" in Florida has led to the heroin explosion, though.

What Demings and Robinson agree on, however, is that the purity level of the heroin on the streets now has increased significantly and it's deadly.

"What you took yesterday may not be the same thing you're taking today, and it may kill you," Robinson said.

"I say it's like playing Russian roulette.  If you want to go and shoot up heroin, it may be the last time that you ever shoot up heroin," Demings said.