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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Florida’s fentanyl problem hits home after Gainesville man overdoses

An 18-year-old Gainesville man nearly died Friday after overdosing on Fentanyl during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

The teen was found unconscious and barely breathing as he lay on the bathroom floor of the First Presbyterian Church, according to an incident report. He survived after first responders administered Naloxone, an anti-overdose medication, but others like him have not been as fortunate.

In Florida over the past five years, deaths caused by Fentanyl — a powerful opioid — have nearly doubled, according to a report published Thursday by UF Health. It was co-authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Fentanyl is a powerful pain medication often used in cancer patients, for example,” said Chris Delcher, a UF assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy in the College of Medicine. “And it’s about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.”

Deaths from Fentanyl overdose increased by more than 53 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the report. During this period, however, the prescription rate for the drug remained relatively unchanged, meaning users obtained Fentanyl illegally.

Ernest Bordini, a Gainesville-based addiction counselor at Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, confirmed the study’s findings.

A decade ago, Bordini said, cases of narcotics addiction were uncommon in his office.

“Most of them were alcohol, pot and cocaine,” he said. “But certainly in the last five years narcotic addiction referrals have become very common.”

Lt. Brett Rowlands, who works on the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Drug Task Force, said the rise in Fentanyl deaths stems from the once-rampant sale of prescription pain pills across the state.

About five years ago, when local and federal law enforcement agencies began to more effectively crack down on pill sales in South Florida, many addicts in the state turned to heroin.

“The problem is that we have tens of thousands of opiate-dependent people now running around that became addicts,” Rowlands said.

To take advantage of the new market, Mexican drug cartels started exporting heroin that was laced with Fentanyl because it was cheaper than selling pure heroin, Rowlands said.

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“(Most people who overdose on the drug) are not actively seeking Fentanyl,” Rowlands said. “What they’re doing is that they’re coming across heroin that is laced with Fentanyl.”

At UF Health Shands Hospital following Friday’s overdose, the teenager told police he smokes Fentanyl to battle his depression and that he buys it online.

Rowlands said police can’t do much to prevent overdoses, but if the task force learns of a case, the group thoroughly investigates it and try to find its origin.

Delcher said researching the tendencies and demographics of average heroin users could help curb these kinds of overdoses.

“If we do want to jump on these kinds of problems faster,” he said, “we definitely need to improve our ability to collect this kind of data faster.”

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