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More can be done to battle fentanyl in Tampa Bay, local advocate says

Right now, both the state and federal government have issued safety alerts after an increase in overdoses.
Fentanyl Opioids CNN
Posted at 8:41 AM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 08:41:57-04

TAMPA, Fla. — As fentanyl wreaks havoc and cost lives across Florida, Jennifer Webb clings to the hope that improved intervention, better education, and more connectedness can help reverse a deadly trend.

“The alternative is death, so it’s worth re-doubling our efforts right now,” she said.

In the Tampa Bay area, according to Webb, who serves as the Executive Director of LIVE Tampa Bay, the crisis is no less severe. She said it impacts roughly 30 families in the region each week.

“Thirty families are faced with calling 911, begging for help, trying to revive their loved one, or getting that horrible call that their loved one has died, and trying to put the pieces of their life back together,” she said. “In 2015, we had 650 deaths from opioids. In 2020, we had over 1,500 deaths from opioids.”

According to Webb, the Florida Department of Health, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Miami Field Division, overdoses are increasing in Florida because fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has infiltrated illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, and meth. According to the DEA, just two milligrams of fentanyl is deadly.

“Today, recreational drug use is really Russian roulette,” said Webb.

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After mass overdose events across Florida, including a recent overdose event in Tampa, both the DEA and Florida Department of Health have issued safety alerts and hope better awareness and education will save lives.

“I would be happy if this alert was blasted in all communities across the eight counties in the Tampa Bay region — if everyone was aware that there is a fentanyl crisis that there’s danger on the streets — danger in drugs,” said Webb, whose coalition of business, faith, philanthropic leaders battle the crisis in Tampa Bay. “I think this needs to be all hands on deck. The number of people who have died are equal to the numbers that we’ve lost in wars.”

While she said many existing programs have proven to work, Webb said there are things the region could do better related to opioid overdose deaths.

Webb hopes for better communication systems between the region’s counties, better data tracking at the state level, better engagement with communities of color and lower-income families, and more services that “bridge” overdose survivors to existing recovery programs.

For Webb, who’s in long-term recovery and whose sister was impacted by drugs, reversing the crisis is personal.

“Opioids was not what I struggled around,” she said. “Unfortunately, my baby sister — that was her struggle.”

Stricken by despair, her sister died by suicide at 19 years old.

“The despair that she was feeling at the time was caused because she didn’t believe that she could actually get into recovery and enjoy a life that’s second to none that I knew that she had the ability to actually connect to, but she had lost that hope,” said Webb. “If I can spare one family from that experience, it is worth it because it is unbelievably hard to lose a child.”

Learn more about the signs of an overdose here and find out how you can get help at this link.