A race against the clock: Orlando overdose detectives get time back

Detectives playing dual roles; investigators, counselors

ORLANDO, Fla. – Since the Orlando Police Department’s Overdose Unit was created a little more than a year ago, it has made almost a hundred arrests of drug dealers who’ve sold deadly and potentially deadly doses of opioids.

Now the unit just got a time-saving boost that Det. Sgt. Stephen Marra said should double the unit’s efficiency.

Marra, a veteran narcotics detective, leads the unit.

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“I had never seen so many people just start dying — dying because of fentanyl,” Marra said. “And we really just said something needs to be done.”

The Overdose Investigative Unit as it’s officially called gets results by calling the fentanyl dealers in the minutes after an overdose, arranging an undercover sale and then an arrest.

“We’re up to 72 fentanyl dealers (arrested) since we started,” Marra said.

But the biggest obstacle the Overdose Unit faces is time.

Families of overdose victims are in crisis after an overdose so detectives have to be consolers and counselors, while at the same time trying to do their jobs as detectives and hunt down the dealer.

“Our investigations are very time-sensitive,” Marra said. “What can happen is the dealers who dealt those narcotics to the victim, it’s just a matter of time until they’re going to catch wind that that last deal that they did the victim is now dead. And someone is going to come looking for them.”

Now, thanks to a grant for $700,000, the unit will get its own victim advocates to care for surviving victims and family members, on-call 24/7.

“We thought maybe bringing in an advocate with those specialties in that skill set, to help the family members, so that can give more time to the detectives investigating immediately and as fast as possible to get the dealer off the street before they hurt someone else,” Marra said.

According to OPD, in 2020, 74 people died from opioid overdoses, just in the City of Orlando.

Marra said 2021 was similar, he’s still waiting on numbers, and those are hundreds of families who want answers and need comfort, both at the same time.

Marra said the two new victim advocates will help the overdose unit do both concurrently.

The victim advocates will also take care of the victims and their families for the long term. Long after detectives leave a crime scene, they would often drop everything to take phone calls from surviving victims or family members, even in the middle of their investigation.

Now the advocates will do that.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.