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Florida might be making a 'dent' in opioid epidemic, new numbers suggest

'A raging epidemic— but hopeful'
Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 08, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida might finally be seeing some relief from the opioid crisis. New numbers from state officials show a dent in overdose deaths.

The state’s Medical Examiners Commission released its interim 2018 data last week. It shows a couple of big takeaways from the first half of last year; overall drug-related deaths were down five percent and opioid-caused deaths were down 13 percent. The data was compared to the same time for 2017.

In the past, authorities estimated the painkillers took the life of 17 Floridians daily.

For those on the frontlines of opioid abuse, the new numbers were welcomed news.

“It feels like the resources that are being provided are helping the problem,” David Daniels said. He’s an operations manager at Big Bend Community Based Care, which provides substance abuse help to 18 panhandle counties.

Daniels said opioid dependence has been notoriously hard to combat.

“That drug rewires your brain,” he said. “You cannot, not have it. You get sick.”

Opioids are highly addictive painkillers. Among them, many commonly prescribed medications and the illegal drug heroin.

The opioid epidemic has been a growing concern, not just in Florida, but across the nation for the last several years. President Donald Trump went so far as to declare it a national emergency in 2017.

The state legislature and governor took measures to cut abuse in the last session. In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the creation of the Task Force on Opioid Drug Abuse. The program is just getting started but aims to figure out if more state regulation is needed and find ways to reduce demand for the drugs.

RELATED: $2.5 million grant awarded to combat Florida's opioid crisis

“It looks like we’re beginning to make a dent into the opioid situation,” said Mark Fontaine, with Florida’s Behavioral Health Association. "We’re still in the middle of a raging epidemic— but hopeful.”

Fontaine said his group had been hoping for favorable numbers from the interim MEC report after seeing positive indicators recently from parts of the state, like Palm Beach. He attributed the drop in opioid deaths to the overdose drug naloxone being more readily available, plus— better-educated doctors and users.

“In two weeks, you can become dependent on an opioid," Fontaine said. "I think we’re begging to understand that and use more caution.”

It’s not all good news. The report suggests deaths caused by fentanyl are on the increase, up 64 percent.

The synthetic drug is 100 times more potent than morphine. It’s often found in counterfeit pills that look like opioids. Federal officials are trying to crack down on foreign sources, but think they're making progress in countries like China and Mexico.