SANFORD, Fla. – Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma spoke with county commissioners on Tuesday in an effort to gain support in combating the opioid crisis.
During a presentation, Lemma asked county leaders to repurpose a jail facility to become a drug assessment center. Commissioners said the county manager would work with Lemma to make that a reality.
According to the Sheriff's Office, 82 people died of a drug overdose in 2018, which was more than the combined number of fatal vehicle crashes and homicides in the county.
"What we're finding is about 85 percent of those individuals were one time legally prescribed an opioid by someone they trusted," Lemma said.
Part of the sheriff's initiative includes breaking the stereotypes of addiction.
"What we're seeing is military veterans and we're seeing athletes," Lemma said. "We're seeing people who have been heavily prescribed opioids, then become addicted to one of the most powerful molecules on this planet and not given the resources to get off."
Lemma said he's worked with the state attorney's office on 13 cases that resulted in first-degree murder charges against a person accused of dealing drugs that resulted in someone's death.
"We want to be very aggressive on them, while at the same time, going to the root of the problem and fixing addiction," Lemma said.
In total, the Sheriff's Office responded to more than 650 cases of an opioid overdose in 2018, which is a number Lemma said needs to be dramatically reduced.
With a drug assessment center now in the works, the sheriff said he'll continue working with commissioners on reprioritizing county resources based on current opioid trends.