Opioid Nation 1 year later: Lives saved but crisis continues

Federal grant money puts Narcan in hands of local law enforcement

ORLANDO, Fla. – This year, Florida will get $27,000,000 in federal funding to fight the opioid crisis. 

It is part two of a two-year, $54,000,000 grant the federal government awarded to the state to pay for treatment, counseling and medication to reverse drug overdoses.

According to the Orlando branch of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, $375,000 of that was used to pay for naloxone spray kits and training for several Central Florida police departments and sheriff's offices.

The good news is that alone has resulted in more than 100 lives being saved because Narcan was used to reverse the effect of an overdose.

But the agency points out it has done little to curtail the rise in opioid-related deaths. 

"It's still here. We're still in the middle of a crisis. And we can't walk away from that," said Danny Banks, FDLE special agent in charge of the Orlando Regional Operations Center. "We've got to continue to work on education and prevention to decrease that addiction."

According to FDLE, between October 2017 and March of 2018, 1,489 Central Florida officers and deputies received Narcan training thanks to federal grant money. 

It also helped equip 1,171 officers with naloxone spray kits.   

FDLE records show that alone helped save 118 people who had overdosed on opioids.

To Banks, that is proof the grant is getting results.

"Where we measure success is if we've saved lives in doing it. We know that has occurred in the past year," Banks said.

Several local law enforcement agencies had already invested in Narcan training and equipment on their own a couple years back. 

The Orange County Sheriff's Office is one of them. 

The agency even had a case of a deputy saving a woman's life using Narcan caught on camera last year.

"To date, I think we have probably saved well over 200, close to 300 lives," said Capt. Carlos Espinosa, with the Orange County Sheriff's office.

[READ - Narcan use among Central Florida law enforcement agencies]

Espinosa is part of the heroin task force and has almost 30 years of law enforcement experience. He said Orange County started seeing a big spike in heroin overdoses back in 2014, and that is why the heroin task force was created.

“And what we found is the problem in Orange County mirrored what was going on throughout the United States,” Espinosa said. 

But both Espinosa and Banks agree the problem with drug addiction continues, with a steady 5 percent rise in drug-related deaths being reported year to year from cocaine, heroin and other opioids.

[READ - Overdose statistics in Florida]

"We lose people every day still to the epidemic," Banks said. "So we have to continue to find more solutions."

"Opioids are coming in from Mexico, in from China and are being distributed throughout our country," Espinosa said. "It is clearly a pandemic situation."

Espinosa said while drug-related deaths continue to rise, they are getting results when it comes to the next generation.

"We're not seeing a lot of school-age kids, high school, middle school-aged kids overdosing," Espinosa said.  

Espinosa credits a lot of that to programs like Heroes Against Heroin and other county initiatives to try to educate and prevent young people from turning to drugs in the first place. He says prevention is key to keeping the next generation from getting hooked on opioids or any other drugs out there.

Another thing he is seeing is families, and even drug dealers, keeping Narcan on hand to treat overdoses.

"We are finding Narcan on our drug search warrants," Espinosa said. "The drug dealers are having it in their possession because they don't want the user to overdose at their house or near their house." 

But Espinosa says while Narcan kits are helping save lives, only treatment and prevention will make a real dent in fighting the opioid crisis.

About the Author: