Florida law enforcement 'helpless to combat' opioid epidemic without state funding

Flagler sheriff sees new hope in Attorney General Moody

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. - The first 911 call from a concerned friend came in to the Flagler County Sheriff's Office Communications Center early in the morning. The caller told the dispatcher her 50-year-old friend was overdosing.

"He wasn't answering his phone and he's slumped over on the couch," the caller said frantically. "Pretty sure he OD'd."

Flagler County sheriff's deputies raced to the man's home, squirted the overdose-reversing drug Narcan up his nose, and brought him back to life.

Twelve hours later, a second call to 911 was made. The same man had overdosed again.

The 911 call dispatcher asked what drug the man had taken for a second time that day that knocked him unconscious.

"I don't know! I don't know!" the caller screamed. "I was making ice cream and I heard him fall on the floor."

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said his deputies believe it was heroin, perhaps laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl, that nearly killed the man twice in one day.

"The frustration is the system is broken," Staly said.

Staly said his deputies do all they can every day to save lives, reviving addicts with naloxone, sometimes several times a day but Staly said addicts need more help.

"They get released but there's no treatment for the addiction," Staly said. "That's because there's not enough beds. There's not enough beds because there's not enough funding."

Staly said there is only one detox facility in Flagler and Volusia Counties licensed by the state to accept addicts brought in by law enforcement.

There are other private facilities but many will not accept people without health insurance.

"The reality is you can save a life, do lots of enforcement, but unless you get to the core which is the demand and the addiction with treatment, none of that is going to be successful," Staly said.

Deputy Braxton Wall, a patrol deputy with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, said he routinely brings people who have overdosed back to life with naloxone.

"It's becoming the norm, whether it's every day or every other day," Wall said. "We feel like we're helpless to combat the problem. It keeps happening over and over again. It's a vicious cycle that seems never-ending. It comes out over the radio and it's an overdose, and you're like 'Again?' It's getting worse and worse. When is this gonna stop?"

Staly said he was hopeful last year the Florida Legislature would fund opioid addiction treatment until the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"We worked with them and in the last legislative session the opioid crisis in the state of Florida was their top agenda," Staly said. "And then tragically the Parkland High School shooting occurred. And that diverted the Legislature's attention to school safety and rightly so. The problem is nothing got accomplished then with this opioid crisis."

Staly said he expects lawmakers to address the opioid epidemic this upcoming legislative session.

Staly said newly elected Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is offering the best hope yet this year for assistance.

Moody just announced a new opioid abuse task force chaired by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.

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