SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Drug overdose deaths are up in Central Florida once again, and synthetic opioid fentanyl is the biggest cause, according to Project Opioid.
The group announced the latest numbers from 2021 at a breakfast in Orlando Thursday.
The event was hosted by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, Project Opioid Founder Andrae Bailey, Florida Blue Market President Tony Jenkins, Community Advocate Dick Batchelor and UCF Associate Professor Dr. Kendall Cortelyou.
According to project officials, the focus was on data from “The Changing Overdose Crisis in Central Florida” report, which shows overdose deaths across the state are up 190% since 2015 and continue to have a crippling impact on Central Florida in particular.
Project Opioid said overdose deaths are up 25% in Central Florida, with Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties having the highest overdose rates in the state.
Fentanyl is also the biggest drug responsible for those overdoses, the synthetic opioid making its way as an additive into almost every drug, and involved in almost eight in 10 Central Florida overdose deaths.
“And really sometimes people don’t even know what they’re taking,” said Cortelyou. “There’s been many instances where individuals get cocaine and that cocaine has been laced with fentanyl and they overdose.”
“Drugs are different oday than they were five years ago and seven years ago,” said Bailey. “The message that moms should be taking to their kids, that parents should be taking to their families, is don’t do drugs because drugs will kill you. That message may have been not necessary five, seven years ago, drugs are never a good thing. But if you’re taking drugs today, if you’re a parent and your kid is experimenting with drugs, that has never been a more dangerous proposition.”
Cortelyou said a lot of the increases are being seen in the African American community.
“This is a fentanyl crisis and the data shows that we’ve got to do more for those in need,” said Bailey.
The group is calling on officials to have Narcan or Nalaxone more readily available to the public to stop overdoses from becoming deaths, and they also want greater awareness of the fact that fentanyl is so prevalent in today’s illegal drugs.
“Narcan in Seminole County alone was deployed 800 times last year, or another way to put that, we brought people back to life with the use of Narcan 800 times,” said Lemma. “Can you think just for one moment, if public safety professionals did not have access to this, the numbers that we would be talking about today?”
Earlier this year, the Florida-based initiative team, working alongside the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, launched a new advocacy campaign.