Dec 22, 2023

Pensacola medical district is No. 1 in Florida opioid deaths

The Pensacola medical district is now the deadliest area in Florida for opioid-related deaths.

Attorney General Ashley Moody traveled to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Pensacola branch Wednesday and stood between several law enforcement chiefs, sheriffs and special agents to make the grim announcement.

Moody referenced the recently released 2022 Interim Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons report that shows that between January and June 2022, 350 people in the Pensacola medical district died with opioids in their system, and 217 of those deaths were of fentanyl or its analogous ingredients.

The Pensacola medical district includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

"That now makes the Pensacola medical examiner's district the deadliest district for opioid overdose deaths per capita in the state of Florida," Moody said. "Within that four-county district, 42 out of every 100,000 residents died of an opioid-related death. That's double, let me repeat, that's double the entire state's per capita death rate where the average is 21 opioid-related deaths out of 100,000 residents."

Growing problem:Escambia County has 63% of fentanyl deaths in 4-county area in 2021, deaths increased 48%

Fentanyl numbers 'disturbing':Escambia County plagued by fentanyl: 'We're being compared to Huntington, West Virginia'

Bowden Madden took to the microphone after Moody and pledged to remain "laser-focused" on the fentanyl problem and to do everything in her office's power to prosecute traffickers and doctors who prey on those most affected by the illicit drug.

"My assistants will aggressively prosecute all crimes associated with these drugs whether you're trafficking in drugs, whether it's just the involvement with these drugs, whether you're illegally prescribing drugs hiding behind a white jacket, or whether you distribute drugs to an individual that dies from consuming that drug," Bowden Madden said. "If there is a death associated with your distribution, you will be held accountable, and you will be prosecuted for that individual's death."

Much of the increase in opioid and fentanyl deaths stem from counterfeit medicine and drugs that have been laced with opioids without the user knowing, law enforcement said, meaning that many people don't have the chance to become addicted to a drug before they die of an accidental overdose.

"We use to say years ago, 'Don't do drugs (because) you might become hooked on the first pill or on the first dose,'" said FDLE Special Agent in Charge Chris Williams. "Now, we still say that but we follow up with you might die on your first dose."

Williams said one step in the partnership between FDLE and Florida Highway Patrol is their criminal interdiction units that work to stop drug smuggling and other illegal acts along the Interstate 10 corridor before illicit substances have a chance to reach the Pensacola community.

At the beginning of the department's criminal interdictions, FDLE says they had made 62 charges and seized over $642,000 worth of illegal drugs between June and December of 2022.

Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons and Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson both said their departments will continue their help in drug interdictions and proactive policing to investigate prospective drug traffickers.

CORE program:There were 23 opioid overdoses in Escambia last week. New CORE program may turn the tide.

Escambia County EMS Chief David Torsell also discussed their department's work in creating a program to help people with drug-related problems called the Coordinated Opioid Recovery Effort (CORE) program. Torsell said there have already been 31 patients in the program including 10 who have graduated.

"We've got them jobs, we got them clothes, we got them food, we got them services, we got them healthcare," he said. "We continue to do those follow-up processes with them (like) taking them to appointments ... to step and get these people the services they need."

Moody also asks anyone who is or may know someone struggling with opioid or drug addiction to go where they can access information regarding drug use and various medical and addiction support.

Growing problem:Fentanyl numbers 'disturbing':CORE program: