Seminole County Sheriff's Office saving, supporting addicts

Recovering opioid addict credits new S.C.O.R.E. team for saving her life

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - Morgan Patt is an energetic, full-of-life Disney food and beverage worker.

She almost died earlier this year.

Shortly after leaving her home in Atlanta and moving to Seminole County, she met a "friend" who introduced her to heroin.

"I remember doing a line, and I don't remember anything else," Patt said. 

All she remembers is waking up in the hospital with her mother, the friend and a Seminole County Sheriff's Office deputy.

"I remember my mom was a mess," Patt said. "The guy that was there with me was crying because at that point, they didn't know if I was going to pull through." 

The deputy was there not because Patt was in trouble, but rather to get Patt out of trouble.

The deputy was a member of the Sheriff's Office's new Seminole County Opioid Response Effort team.

Deputy Michelle Lord, a S.C.O.R.E. team member, became Patt's guide through the maze of addiction recovery.

"I care about Morgan, I've been on this journey with her since February," Lord said. "I have resources that can help them. I can literally get them from an ER overdose bed to detox, where they don't have to think about it, all they have to do is say 'yes' and I'll take care of the rest of them."

Lord eventually also became Patt's friend.

"Morgan and I talk all the time," Lord said. "I just want her to know I'm here for her. And it's like every other overdose victim, they have someone they can reach out to. They can always call me."

Seminole County is the third most densely populated county in Florida. In 2018, 650 overdoses were reported, 82 of them fatal. Narcan was deployed 450 times.

Sheriff Dennis Lemma started S.C.O.R.E. because simply arresting and reviving addicts wasn't working.

Addicts who are brought back to life by the overdose-reversing drug Narcan often go right back to heroin to cure the painful sickness that comes with opioid withdrawal. Some addicts overdose again and again.

"The No. 1 predictor of whether someone will overdose and die is whether they've overdosed and lived," Lemma said. "Nobody is born wanting to die with a needle in their arm, and this program is helping people combat the challenges they're having on their journey to recovery."

Another component of S.C.O.R.E. is to include family members of addicts in treatment and recovery. Lemma believes addicts will be more likely to continue recovery with support from family.

"My mom was so excited when she heard I was doing this," Patt said. "It's a demon within myself I've had to deal with it. It is nice to have the support."

Lemma said while his deputies aggressively go after drug dealers who sell heroin or fentanyl-laced opioids that lead to an overdose death, he doesn't want addicts to be afraid to call for help.

Under Florida's Good Samaritan law, they cannot and will not be prosecuted if they call 911 for help and are found with drugs.

Patt, a recovering addict who had weaned herself off of pain pills years before, said she's come to count on Lord's support.

"The past week and a half all I've done is cry," Patt said. "So when she (Lord) texted me, 'Let's get coffee,' I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, let me get out of the house, this is great.'"

Patt said there are times she considers turning to drugs again.

"I would probably try and find something," Patt said. "If my overdose didn't happen and I'd been in the mindset I have been recently, I can't say I wouldn't pick it back up if it weren't for Michelle and the S.C.O.R.E. team, knowing they're right there."

Patt is holding a steady job and has been clean since her overdose.

"Am I happy?" Patt said. "I am. A lot happier than I thought I'd be because when you're in the trenches of using, you're like (wondering) how you're going to survive. It's possible."

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