A drug so potent that it’s used as an animal tranquilizer is now Florida’s deadliest drug. According to a mid-year report released by the Florida Medical Examiners, fentanyl killed more people in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, and West Palm Beach than any other cities in state last year.
The synthetic opioid alone killed 704 people between January and June of 2016 – more than twice the amount of people who died of a fentanyl overdose in the first half of 2015. Fentanyl was responsible for more deaths than any other drug, and nearly twice as many as heroin. The report was released just two days after Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency to combat the opioid epidemic in the state.
It’s no secret that the opioid crisis has severely affected Florida and states all across the country. Heroin and fentanyl, in particular, have been driving up the death toll in communities across America, with more than 33,000 people dying of an opioid overdose in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Typically prescribed to cancer patients or those in severe pain, fentanyl is the most potent painkiller available. Experts say it is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. The drug is prescribed either as a lozenge, an injection or a time-release patch. Illegal street fentanyl comes from Mexico and China in a pill or powder form, and is typically smoked, injected or snorted. Oftentimes, this illegal version of fentanyl, and its derivatives are mixed in with heroin, cocaine, and other drugs, heightening the risk for a deadly overdose.
According to the report issued by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, there was a 25.3 percent increase in heroin deaths, and a 139.5 percent increase in fentanyl deaths compared with the first six months of 2015.
Prescription benzodiazepines, painkillers, and illicit forms of heroin and fentanyl have claimed thousands of lives in the state of Florida over the last several years. Popular tourist cities like Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and West Balm Beach have been the hardest hit by the opioid addiction crisis. Fentanyl, and its analogues became Florida’s deadliest drug in the first six months of last year, reported as the cause of death or present in the person’s system in more than 750 deaths.
- According to the latest report from the Medical Examiners, West Palm Beach had the most heroin deaths in the first half of 2016 – 63 deaths
- Miami was the city with the second most heroin deaths – 40, followed closely by Fort Lauderdale with 34.
- According to the report, Orlando had the most fentanyl deaths from January to June of 2016, with 87 fatalities.
- Fort Lauderdale saw the second most fentanyl deaths with 42, followed by Miami with 37 and West Palm Beach with 36.
- Deaths related to fentanyl in Orange and Osceola counties rose by 20 percent in the first half of 2016, with more than 100 deaths combined.
Although prescription opioids like fentanyl have been around for many years, it’s a relatively new obstacle in the fight against the country’s prescription opioid epidemic. A increase in painkiller prescription over the last 10 years has led to a rise in patients who are addicted to opioids. In order to maintain their high, many patients began doctor shopping to obtain more prescriptions, only helping to perpetuate the epidemic. Once laws became stricter for patients and doctors alike, and pills became more costly, addicts began turning to cheaper alternatives like heroin and fentanyl in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
According to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. has seen a drastic increase in the number of drug containing fentanyl, CNN reports. From 2015 to 2016, more than double the amount of drugs seized by law enforcement tested positive for the powerful opioid. The opioid epidemic is so bad that overdose deaths caused by these drugs have exceeded the amount of deaths caused by car accidents and shooting deaths.