Commissioner's Corner: Combating drug use

This month, I would like to give you an update on some of the most dangerous drugs in our community and on Orange County's efforts to fight the use of these substances.

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  • | 11:28 a.m. May 25, 2016
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Orange County is committed to maintaining a high quality of life for our residents. Many recognize the county’s support for our quality of life through the funding of the arts, culture, our environment, recreation, and many other areas. However, Orange County government is also on the front lines helping care for residents suffering from addiction to illegal and dangerous drugs, which has a devastating effect on impacted families. This month, I would like to give you an update on some of the most dangerous drugs in our community and on Orange County’s efforts to fight the use of these substances.

Orange County has recently seen an uptick in heroin use. Heroin is a drug derived from the opium poppy, which is the key source for many other narcotics, including morphine and codeine. Heroin use leads to temporary euphoric effects, but is highly addictive and has a high incidence rate for many dangerous side effects, including heart arrhythmia and pulmonary edema. Much of the heroin being consumed today is mixed with toxic additives, which may lead to other dangerous effects. In 2015, there were 84 deaths in Orange County associated with heroin, up significantly from just 19 in 2011. In 2014, local law enforcement reported 606 heroin submissions to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab, a 400 percent increase since 2010. Unfortunately, heroin use in our community continues to increase.

To combat the use of this drug, Mayor Jacobs convened the Orange County Heroin Task Force in mid-2015. The task force was made up of key community leaders with expertise in the areas of law enforcement, education and prevention, healthcare, and treatment to address the increase in heroin use and overdose-related deaths in Orange County. The task force presented a list of 37 recommendations, ranging from increased joint drug enforcement operations by law enforcement, equipping first responders with a life-saving drug used in overdose situations called Naloxone, and increased education and training on overdose prevention and treatment resources available in the community.

Fentanyl is another drug becoming increasingly more common in Orange County. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate pain reliever developed in the 1960s approximately 100-times more potent than morphine. Doctors use fentanyl in clinical settings to treat patients with severe pain and to manage pain after surgery. However, this powerful drug has begun appearing in increased frequency on our streets. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando crime laboratory has recently seen a surge in numbers of pills containing dangerous amounts of fentanyl or mixtures of fentanyl with other drugs like Percocet, Xanax, or Oxycodone, colloquially known as “super pills.” Some of the “super pills” analyzed by FDLE’s Orlando lab contain enough fentanyl to kill a person with one pill, frequently through respiratory depression. Unfortunately, usage of this drug is on the rise.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, fentanyl was the seventh most lethal drug in the state. In 2014, 75 people died in Orange and Osceola counties from the use of this drug. Statewide, use of this drug has doubled since 2009. Consumers needing prescription pain medicine should obtain it from a licensed pharmacy, and parents should talk with their children about this dangerous trend.

To combat the increased use of heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs, the county has set up the Drug Free Office to work collaboratively with community partners, law enforcement, schools, higher education, faith-based organizations, parents, and other community members to develop and implement a comprehensive strategic action plan to reduce drug use among youth and adults. This office has a wealth of information on drug prevention, as well as a list of resources for those seeking treatment for addiction. In addition, Orange County has a number of prescription drug disposal locations, which will take unused prescription drugs anonymously. Three of these locations are within District 5, at the Winter Park Police Department, UCF Police Department, and UCF Health Services Pharmacy. These drugs are a serious threat to the lives of our citizens and through the ongoing efforts Orange County hopes to save and improve the quality of life of those most vulnerable.

Orange County will continue to work with the community to curb the use of illegal and dangerous drugs. If you need immediate information on drug prevention or treatment, please contact our Drug Free Office at 407-836-7335. As always, if you have any additional questions about Orange County’s drug prevention efforts or any other county issue, please feel free to contact me or my aide, Edgar Robinson. We can be reached at 407-836-7350 or by email and [email protected].