Heroin: An epidemic in the Bay Area

Sarasota police addressing heroin epidemic

Can you imagine having an emergency, and all the ambulances that should be free, are tied up on other calls?  That could soon be the reality in Sarasota and Manatee Counties where police officers are desperate to stop a growing problem: Heroin.

It’s a deadly crisis that's only getting worse.

The Heroin epidemic is tying up your emergency resources and costing you money.

People are overdosing every single day, and many of them are dying.

Heroin users are not getting the help they need and they're tying up the ambulances and EMTs we all rely on in an emergency.

Sarasota Police Officers will host an urgent meeting Thursday at 9:30 AM to beg the community for help in stemming the growing problem.

Police officers are creating public service announcements, busting drug dealers, training how to deal with overdoses and using special medication to combat heroin, but nothing seems to be working.

Since July 1st, 44 people have overdosed on heroin in Sarasota alone, and 8 died.

But the problem is even worse when you look at Manatee County. Since July 1st, 550 people have overdosed. That’s about 9 people a day.

Manatee County is number one in the U.S. when it comes to heroin overdoses.

Combined, the two counties have responded to nearly 1,000 overdose calls in just the past 8 months.

The epidemic is affecting everyone. At the Manatee County Drug Rehab Center they’ve seen an influx of people in the past 2 years.

“In two years, we’ve added about 20 beds and about to add six more,” says Melissa Larkin-Skinner, with Centerstone of Florida.

It’s something they haven’t done in years.

“The past two years is when we really saw a turn,” says Larkin-Skinner.

“I overdosed 3 times in one week,” says John Thompson who was an addict.

“That was my life,” says Thompson.

He’s one of the lucky ones that’s survived and now sober.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” says Lt. Randy Boyd, Sarasota Police Department.

Police officers in Sarasota tell us heroin isn’t the biggest problem, but other extremely potent drugs mixed in. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine. Cartenfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and is used to tranquilize elephants -- making it even more deadly.

“If you do this drug, you are going to die,” says Lt. Boyd.

Officers tell us drug dealers are mixing in those substances to make more profit. They’re not telling the users so often times those shooting up have no clue what’s in the drugs they’re injecting.

90% of people who used heroin used at least one other drug as well.

Police departments are stocking up on Naloxone (Narcan), medication that counteracts the heroin, and once they run out of their donated supply, they may have to use taxpayer money to pay for more.

Now, Manatee County's morgue is busting at the seams and has been out of space since July.

Sarasota Police hope to find solutions Thursday to a problem snagging too many lives. 

It’s a drug that’s made its way past the county line and officials are now pleading for help.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of this issue,” says Lt. Boyd.

The only way to make things better is to get this deadly drug off of the street.

Police want you to know that if someone you know is overdosing, when they show up for help they are not there to arrest you, but to give the overdoser the attention they need.

If you know someone that needs help with substance abuse, call 1-800-662-HELP.


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