Attorney General Jeff Sessions discusses opioid epidemic affecting Tampa Bay area during visit

Deaths up from highly-addictive prescription drugs

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay area is ground zero for the opioid epidemic affecting large portions of the county.

Deaths from highly-addictive prescription drugs are up nearly 6 percent in Tampa and 16.5 percent in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

The situation is even more dire in Manatee County where hundreds of people have died over the past few years.

IN DEPTH: These myths about drugs and addiction are making the opioid epidemic worse

Many of the deaths are caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more powerful and deadly than heroin.

"I died twice — overdosed — my wife found me in the bathroom blue," says a recovering addict who spoke to ABC Action News on the condition that his named not be used.

State lawmakers are currently debating bills how to better regulate how pain medicines are prescribed in Florida. Senate Bill 8 would limit most prescriptions to a 3-day supply.

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Florida Blue, the state's largest insurer, no longer covers Oxycontin, a drug known for causing addiction and dependence. Instead, it offers the extended release medication "Xtampza ER" because the pills cannot be crushed.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Tampa on Wednesday to discuss federal efforts to combat drug trafficking and end the opioid crisis.

"They're making this stuff heroin and Fentanyl in a pill form. They're putting it in Adderall pills and Xanax pills — drug of choice among college kids," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Synthetic Fentanyl, often put into heroin and produced in China or Mexico, is the number one opioid killer, according to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions says the "dark web" is a top priority for his office which recently shut down a source called 'Alpha Bay.'

"They had 220-thousand sites on their secret website, this dark net site, that you could order illegal drugs from including Fentanyl," he said. 

"Katie was shy and private," said Tampa mom Dawn Golden.

Katie Golden was about to graduate from Plant High School when her mom says she accidentally overdosed on a drug they believe she only used one time — heroin.

"I'll never be great. Hmmmmm," said her mom scrunching up her face. 

Now Dawn Golden is pushing for "Katie's Law" which would criminalize offering deadly drugs to kids.

"The law is pretty specific about sale and delivery but I'm talking about things that happen before that, come on over for a pill party," she said.

Golden suffered from depression, low self esteem, was diagnosed with ADHD and had her share of struggles with marijuana, according to her family.

She's an example of how vulnerable our kids could be to danger with just one choice.

"I want to protect other kids. I don't want this to happen to anybody else," said Golden. 

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