OCALA, Fla. - In an effort to combat the growing opioid epidemic in the city of Ocala, the mayor and officials with the police department announced the launch of an amnesty program Tuesday.
With 2018 only in its second month, 22 people have overdosed, and seven people have died in the city, according to officials.
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The program stems from the mayor's opioid task force created late May. The task force focuses on education and prevention, law enforcement, health care and -- with the new amnesty program -- treatment.
"If someone comes in and says, 'Yeah I need help,' we are going to put them in the car drive them out to The Centers," Chief Greg Graham said. The Centers is a nonprofit drug treatment facility that has partnered up with the Ocala PD.
"You are not going to be arrested. You are not going to be charged with it, you are going to be given help," he added.
According to Ocala police records, the average age of victims of overdose deaths in the city was 38.
The department has been tackling the problem with a seven-month operation to combat dealers called Operation Life Saver, which has resulted in the arrests of 95 people on suspicion of selling and trafficking. But despite a lull in overdoses in 2017, numbers climbed again in 2018.
"We are never going to be able to arrest our way out of this issue, never," Graham said. "It's going to help, but prevention, treatment and education -- those are the three components."
Anyone addicted to opioids can walk-in or call the department and simply ask for help. The chief says the officer will seize the drugs and transport the individual to one of two centers --Perspectives and New Directions of Central Florida or The Centers-- so they can receive treatment.
Perspectives and New Directions of Central Florida is located at 818 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala, and The Centers is located at 5664 SW 60th Ave., Ocala
Graham said the partnership with The Centers has helped to combat the crisis and that the department was given Narcan, which has saved the lives four people so far.
According to The Center's spokesperson Kristina Donohue, the staff has also seen a spike in how many people are coming into the drug treatment center. From July 2015 to June 2016, the facility had 557 people come in for treatment, but from July 2017 to June 2017, that number rose to 701.
The Centers has two residential centers-- one in Marion County and the other in Citrus County --which house a total of 60 beds and six detox beds. If the beds are full, they will work with other treatment centers, such as Perspectives in Ocala, to get anyone the help they need.
"Our goal is treatment, so if someone comes in, we will move mountains to try to get them the treatment they deserve," Donohue said at the news conference Tuesday afternoon.
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