Perhaps the most prominent trend is the substantial increase in deaths due to heroin overdose since 2012. In Florida in 2015, 779 people lost their lives to heroin and other opioid overdoses. Furthermore, an interim report for 2016 showed that drug deaths caused by heroin had increased by 25 percent in the first six months of the year, compared to the first six months of 2015.
The vast majority of heroin users started out taking prescription pain medications, and Orlando has been one of the hardest hit areas in Florida, along with Palm Beach, Miami, Broward, and Sarasota. Unfortunately, the “good” news that Orange County has experienced a slight decrease in heroin-related overdoses in the past couple of years is countered by a corresponding increase in deaths from fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.
Who Is Most Affected by Opioid Abuse?
Overall heroin-related arrests in Orange County increased from a low of 181 in 2011 to 890 in 2016 – a staggering increase over just five years. In 2016, almost 79 percent of heroin-related bookings in Orange County were of males, and nearly half of all arrestees fell in the 25- to 34-year age group.
In 2015, Orange County emergency department visits related to heroin use skewed heavily male, with men in the 25- through 29-year-old age group making up the largest grouping. For women, the 18-year through 24-year-old age group was the largest, and for both sexes, the overwhelming majority of people admitted to emergency departments due to heroin use were white.
From 2010 through 2014, there were 378 total emergency department visits in Orange County due to heroin use, with Florida Hospital East and Orlando Health taking the majority of cases. The real story is that in 2015 alone, there were 308 heroin-related visits to emergency departments in Orange County, compared to 378 for the prior four-year period.
Where Do People Obtain Heroin and Other Opioids?
The majority of people with heroin addiction started out using prescription opioids and then turned to heroin when they could no longer obtain the prescription drugs to which they had become addicted. Orlando drug rehab programs have been dealing with a mixture of substance use disorders related to heroin specifically, a combination of heroin and other opioid use, and opioid use specifically, often depending solely on what the patient was able to obtain.
The vast majority of ordinary citizens know that use of heroin – even on occasion – is very harmful. Yet sources for accessing heroin and drugs like it abound throughout Orlando and Orange County. A survey of Orange County adults in 2016 reported that people named parties, street dealers, friends, bars, nightclubs, and “home” as the likeliest places for accessing drugs like heroin.
The Heartbreak of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
While overdose deaths are the biggest story surrounding opioid use in Orange County, another problem has emerged: neonatal abstinence syndrome. In Orange County in recent years, women admitted to emergency departments because of heroin use are overwhelmingly young and in their prime reproductive years. So it is no mystery why neonatal abstinence syndrome has become more common.
The syndrome causes neonates to undergo symptoms like those of drug withdrawal, including tremors, sleep problems, irritability, and high-pitched crying. It can persist for weeks to months. Research by Vanderbilt University Medical Center published earlier in 2018 reported that in the US, an infant is born with withdrawal symptoms every 15 minutes, having been exposed to opioids before birth. Perhaps sadder still is that research is just now gathering data to learn whether the syndrome has lasting effects on children’s brains and bodies.
Intervention with Naloxone
Starting in January 2016, the University of Central Florida Police Department was the first in Orange County to carry naloxone, and in February of that year, the Sheriff of Orange County announced that all first responders of the sheriff’s office would carry the rescue drug. In the year spanning July 2016 to July 2017, deputies administered naloxone 106 times.
There is no question that the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses saves thousands of lives per year, yet the use of the rescue drug is still controversial. Many argue that because naloxone is a “safety net” drug, it encourages continued drug use. However, researchers are increasingly reporting that the weight of evidence supports that naloxone is a critical tool in fighting the overdose epidemic, and there is the very simple fact that without naloxone, fewer people would live to have the opportunity to enter into Orlando drug rehab facilities and overcome their substance use disorder.
What About Fentanyl and Carfentanil?
Fentanyl is currently Florida’s deadliest drug. Fentanyl is hardly new, but it is cheaper to make than heroin, which means that drug dealers increasingly cut the two drugs together to maximize profits. Primarily from China, the fentanyl lacing central Florida’s heroin supply is 50 times more potent than heroin. It is not uncommon for two to three doses of naloxone to be necessary to reverse an overdose where fentanyl is involved.
Worse still, a drug called carfentanil, which is an animal tranquilizer, is an astounding 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and it is also being found in Florida heroin supplies. The bottom line is that when someone buys heroin, he or she simply does not know what besides heroin is in the product, and one mistake can be deadly.
Early Intervention Works on Individual and Societal Levels
Just as clinical evidence shows that early intervention and treatment for substance use disorder is more successful for individuals, Orange County law enforcement is finding that early intervention also works on a larger scale for combating the drug use problem. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told the Orlando Sentinel that the county’s efforts to combat drug overdoses by equipping first responders with naloxone and using intervention and treatment alongside law enforcement techniques are helping to keep the problem from being far more dangerous, saying, “If we hadn’t taken those early steps, the problem would be more serious.”
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, time is of the essence. Intervention today is more effective than intervention tomorrow, and with drugs like fentanyl on the streets, tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone with a heroin or opioid dependence disorder. We invite and encourage you to contact us to learn more about getting help. Substance use disorder can be overcome, and we can help.